post by Ana Flores
Look, I’m a fervent believer in more American kids learning Chinese. But the language that will be essential for Americans and has far more day-to-day applications is Spanish. Every child in the United States should learn Spanish, beginning in elementary school; Chinese makes a terrific addition to Spanish, but not a substitute.
In recent years, the Mandarin language has acquired a level of prestige for over-achieving and competitive parents who want their children to be able to fairly compete in our 21st Century’s business world. However, the argument is made that the real social and economic advantage in today’s world comes from knowing how to communicate en español.
The reasons are very clear:
1. Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the United States. In fact, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers, 34 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, making this the country with the second largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. That’s ahead of Spain and following only México. Think about that a second or two. You would allow your child to grow up, say in Argentina, and not teach him the native language? We have more Spanish speakers here than they do in any of the countries in Latin America, except for one! A child that does not speak Spanish is at a disadvantage when it comes to engaging in many of the day-to-day activities and interactions that make up the thread of this nation.
2. U.S.–Latin American relations are increasingly more closely knit. Barriers have blurred and, no matter how high the walls we try to build, we live a co-dependent existence with our neighbors across the border. The NYT columnist points out that the economies in the Latin American region were some of the few which nicely survived the economic crisis. We are more and more doing business together, as well as traveling back and forth as Latin America becomes highly attractive in every sense. Our children will most likely encounter many career, business and lifestyle opportunities south of the border, and speaking Spanish will be essential.
3. Spanish is becoming the language of business in the United States. No matter which career you choose nowadays, you will likely encounter a need to speak in Spanish in the U.S. Not only is it usable in daily interactions, but also to expand business and reach a wider net of the population.
4. Spanish is an “easy” language to learn and get exposed to in daily American life. Kristoff argues that although it is important to learn Chinese, it is pretty much a career to do so because of the complexities of the verbal and written language. Spanish, on the other hand, is easy to grasp, practice and put to use in every day life. There are many opportunities to engage in it, to find peers to practice with, to inexpensively travel to immerse yourself in it and to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment by using it often. I really hope there comes a day when it will be absurd to write a post listing reasons, as if convincing people, about the need to learn Spanish at an early age. I know that if you are reading this you probably have more personal reasons–such as heritage, family connections, academic benefits, etc–to teach your child Spanish. I hope this article serves to reinforce your decision and as a document to share with those who are hesitant to make the sacrifices necessary to guarantee a bilingual education for their children. The benefits are just so clear.
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