Monday, August 28, 2006

The United States of America is a Spanish-speaking nation...

I believe that everyone in the United States should speak a little Spanish. I wish that they’d encourage it, or even require it, more often in schools. There are millions of Spanish-speakers in this country, and there are hundreds of millions more in the countries and continent directly to our south. America—and by that I mean the whole of America, and not just the U.S.A.—is a whole lot of Latin, a little bit Anglo, and a tiny sliver Franco. We ought to be able to communicate with our neighbors, I think. Learning their tongue will, in the end, benefit us both: ideas and understanding could flow more freely across borders and cultures, enriching everyone in the process. Does that sound utopian? Well, I’ll admit to being a little utopian sometimes. Don’t hate me for it.

Despite the perennial pushes to make English our “official language”, the United States has never been and will never be a monolingual nation. Government fiat cannot impose a backwards nativist pipe dream on a land as vast and diverse as ours. It’s foolish, not to mention ignorant, even to attempt such a thing. English is in no danger from immigrants. English isn’t going anywhere. If people are worried about that, they shouldn’t be. If people are worried that a Latin horde is about to sweep over them and ruin their way of life, they should look into their own lives and try and figure out why they turned into such a bigot. There are lots of things to fear in this world, but that isn’t one of them.

But even among those who aren’t caught up in a xenophobic line of argument, too often the knee-jerk response is “Why should we accomodate these people? Why should we speak their language in this country?” This is, when you get right down to it, a strange way of looking at things. You don’t feel like you’re accommodating mathematicians when you take algebra, after all. You don’t feel like you’re accommodating surgeons when you study anatomy. By the same token, you don’t accommodate anyone by learning their language, you enhance your own abilities. It’s probably the arrogance of being born into the world economy’s dominant language that makes us think that learning a language is something we do to indulge others, not something we do to better ourselves.

Speaking personally, I hope to improve my Spanish very soon. I took five years of it, but my skills are pretty rusty. I’m good at ordering in a Mexican restaurant, and I can read the signs on the Latin-American businesses around my neighborhood, but I’m utterly lost after thirty seconds of slow conversation or five milliseconds of Univision. I can write a few sentences in passable baby Spanish, but I can’t pronounce certain words and finding out how to get to the best nightclub in Guadalajara, Buenos Aires or Santiago would require several awkward minutes and a great deal of patience on everyone’s part. I’m not satisfied with this state of affairs. I want to be fluent. I’ll have to take some more classes, I suppose. I also want to be fluent in French and Portugese, but these are further down the road. One tongue at a time, that’s the way to do it.