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Culture — The Truth about Latinos Learning English

by Jake Beus

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March 19th, 2010

This week’s topic on Spanish Culture can be a sensitive issue for many people in the U.S. There are people that have very strong feelings on both sides of the issue. I am going to touch on this topic and share insights from my own perspective.

As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, I lived in Latin America for two years. Here in the U.S. I have also worked extensively with many Latino people. I have provided business training seminars for them, become friends with them, and my business has taught hundreds of Latinos to speak English.

There is an overwhelming sentiment in the U.S. that when Latino people come here to the U.S. they ought to learn English—end of discussion. People argue that when many of our European ancestors came to the U.S., they had to learn English and so should the Latino people.

I agree with this to a point, and I believe that most Latino people in the U.S. also agree and truly want to learn English. The challenge is, while some Latino people that come to the U.S. are professionals, many of them have had only a few years of elementary school; as a result it is very difficult for them to learn English. I saw this over and over again first hand as my company taught them English. Some of them wanted to learn English desperately, but it just didn’t seem to stick.

One of the challenges is that many Latino people move to sectors of cities where there are Mexican restaurants and stores and many other Latino people. They feel comfortable only speaking Spanish. This fact frustrates a lot of Americans who think everyone should know English, and they themselves don’t want to expend any effort to learn Spanish.

Now here’s the other side of the story; the part that most people don’t realize. When Latino families come to the U.S. a high percentage of them want their children to learn English to such a degree that they only permit their children to speak English in the home so they won’t have the “stereotyped stigma” of knowing Spanish. The sad part is that many second-generation Latinos here in the U.S. don’t speak Spanish because their parents made them speak English in the home. If they would have learned both languages fluently, they would have been that much farther ahead in life. Of course there are exceptions to this and some become truly bilingual, actually translating and interpreting for their parents. However, I have personally known hundreds of Latinos where this is the case—they became fluent only in English as they grow up and lose any Spanish skills they had.

Many of us have one point of view on certain issues; we think that people should learn our language and we shouldn’t have to learn theirs since we are perfectly fine just knowing English. I believe the fact that someone knows two languages should inspire respect for their achievement instead of thinking of them as “not as smart” because they have a foreign accent.

To learn more about speaking Spanish, click here

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7 Responses

  1. Ken Kreis says:

    In the article you wrote:

    “I believe the fact that someone knows two languages should inspire respect for their achievement instead of thinking of them as “not as smart” because they have a foreign accent.”

    Yes, I agree. I have also seen the “stereotyped stigma” of knowing Spanish. It appears in the local newspaper editorials and comes from uneducated and racist individuals.

    All people need to be required to take a foreign language in school, and certainly in college. Learning a foreign language is the best way to learn of other cultures. The education system in the USA is lacking in the foreign language department.

    Excellent article, thank you!

    Ken Kreis
    Mason City, IA

    • jakethesnake says:

      Thanks for your comment Ken. I agree that learning a foreign language is the best way to learn of other cultures. There is definitely much improvement to be made in the USA as well as many other countries.

  2. Andrew Playford says:

    When I came back from Spain and Mexico after having studied Spanish, I wanted to practice it as much as I could. The strange thing was when I spoke Spanish to a Latino who could speak English. I did not like it. It was as if I they were offended that I might be talking Spanish because I thought they could not speak English. I guess you can’t win ‘em all! :)

  3. Sleep Better says:

    learning english is quite easy, there arem any tutorials on the internet and some audiobooks too .;’

  4. Learning Spanish Quickly says:

    Whether Latinos in the United States are learning English quickly or not seems to be somewhat in the eye of the beholder. Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant parents report they are fluent in English. Educators often say, too, that how fast someone learns English varies greatly from person to person. The Pew study notes that research shows that the age of arrival and education level of immigrants are some of the predictors of how quickly they acquire good English skills. With Spanish and the Latino people and culture given equality here, we’ll be one step closer to creating a harmonious society in California, Arizona, Florida and other states still riven by historical bitterness and debate among different peoples.

  5. Louis Beauchamp says:

    Having little education and spending most of one’s time within Spanish speaking environments all add to the reasons many do not learn English. So it’s more difficult for some and for others laziness. But for most, by not learning English, they ultimately are holding themselves back. I’m second generation French and hired many immigrant Latinos but only those who actively are trying to learn English. Too many mistakes happen because of poor communication. Even in Mexico, those who speak English have better jobs. I offer language school but I’ve let some go who after 3 – 5 years, to those who made no improvement. Again some wanted and some did not want to learn. Our country is full of people who came, speaking hundreds of different languages and eventually learned English.

  6. Rene Brunes-Levi says:

    There’s many reasons why many hispanics don’t end up learning or perfecting their English.
    Myself I speak both languages fluently with no accent in either language since I spoke both languages as a kid, went to school in different countries being able to actually master both languages and practice them with others who spoke the language as a first and only language. Now unfortunately my parents had a different story, my father being the one who somewhat learned the language since he was the one dealing with the public and business and his wished were for my mother to take care of any family matters my mother was pretty much forced to stay at home taking care of all of us and at times having to deal with the spanish part of the business in other countries, so now as an adult I find myself doing translations for my mother and I know that many people go through this too, it does not bother me but sometimes it just makes you think about how we all take things for granted, I could have been the one in that position but I’m not anyone could be another thing also is as much as many people hate hearing and learning this is that besides Canada and the USA pretty much all of the western countries are spanish speaking countries and at some point almost 50% of what today is the USA was Mexican and Spanish lands in fact people have been speaking Spanish here prior to anyone speaking English and while this will just cause social stir and resentments it is still a reality and some people don’t let go of history and to a point history cannot be ignored but respected and if they want to fight for thar respect and entitlement be it. There’s also the side of the story that maybe 70% if not of all the Latinos living in North America come from poor families in their homeland many of them are illiterate in their own language! making it more difficult to learn how read and spell in their language and also a second language they’re trying to learn. Also learning a language when you’re surrounded by people who speak the same language as you do will make it harder because you are not putting the language you’re learning in practice and finally there shouldn’t be any frustration from anyone period because English speaking people have been catered and helped out so much in foreign countries if not in the entire world, hotels, tourist areas, museums anywhere you go in the world there will be people speaking english and offering help in english for those who speak english and all other languages are not really taken into consideration, unfortunately the people judging the immigrants are also people who haven’t had the status and or opportunity to see what the world is like either because they’re too poor to travel or are blessed with not having a need to leave their own country.

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