Habla español? Soon, Latinos will be less likely to say 'si'

Some Latinos feel there's no need to speak Spanish

Cindy Y. Rodriguez | 9/23/2013, 6:10 a.m.
It's no secret that more and more people are speaking español in the United States, but what you probably didn't ...
Darlene Freire-Geller says teaching Spanish to her two youngest daughters, Emily (8) and Hailey (4), "just didn't happen." Freire-Geller, who is a second-generation American, knows Spanish but speaks English at work and at home. Her husband, Ira, only speaks English. Courtesy Darlene Freire-Geller

— "Language is just as much about value, culture, identity, context, emotion, behavior and usage. Children learn in their school setting that the only language that really matters in this society is English," Carter explained. "They therefore cultivate identities that are rooted in English speaking."

Carter conducted research in North Carolina, where the Latino population has grown 394%, from 76,726 in 1990 to 378,963 in 2000, according to the census, making it the state with the fastest growing Latino population in the country.

"In North Carolina right now, Spanish is a 'new' language where immigrant children experience shame for speaking Spanish, and many children pretend not to speak or even understand the language," said Carter, "This is not in the third generation, but in what we call generation 1.5, the young children who come with their parents from abroad."

Carter said it is unlikely that these children will transmit Spanish to their own children, adding to the trend already being seen among more established immigrants.

He adds that unless politicians stop linking Spanish to "the ghetto," claiming that Mexicans don't "assimilate," arguing the national anthem should not be sung in Spanish and that English is the "language of the future," then Spanish will not have a future in the United States.

But speaking Spanish appears to be thriving in new communities, with parents seeking out resources for their children to learn from.

Roxana Soto, author of "Bilingual is Better" and co-founder of Spanglishbaby.com, says many of her readers are non-Latino parents who want their children to grow up bilingual.

"They are pushing for more dual language immersion schools where kids are immersed in Spanish from day one, ensuring they become bilingual and biliterate."

And, it's not only in children. Non-Latino professionals who work with Hispanics are also jumping on the Spanish-language wagon.

"I work in a high school where the majority of the kids are Hispanic; it only makes sense for me to learn Spanish. I don't need Italian; I need to learn Spanish," said guidance counselor Frank Gioia at Memorial High School in West New York, New Jersey.

"Spanish is the second-most popular language in the country. It's important that non-Latinos learn it as well as their kids," he said.

Gioia's parents are second-generation Italians but only spoke English at home.

"And, with the way the country is changing, we will need Spanish to communicate with newcomers, business if involved with Latin America and even job opportunities. I know I want my kids to be multilingual," he said.

Carter, the language researcher, sums it up: "What is happening is simply a function of immigration, related as it is to the globalized economy, etc.

"As a linguist, the big story is that Spanish is being lost at the same time that new immigration continues to make the language a viable, visible and important language in the U.S."

Will Spanish in the U.S. thrive or decline? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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