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article imageShould the US Adopt Spanish as Its Second Language?

By Carol Forsloff     Oct 11, 2009 in Lifestyle
In places like Portland Oregon, there are large communities of Hispanics. Many residents there speak mostly Spanish, some not learning English. Advertised jobs frequently require Spanish. So should Spanish be accepted as the US second language?
The question regarding language is frequently in the news, including just within the past few weeks. Just recently ABC News examined President Obama’s assurance that illegal immigrants would not be insured under the new health care reform policies. But as the article pointed out under immigration reform those health care benefits could in fact be given to these undocumented immigrants. Obama has supported legislation that would allow immigrants to become legal residents and eventually citizens by meeting a series of requirements that includes, among other things, learning English. Yet in many places in the country applicants for jobs are required to be conversant not just in English but in Spanish as well.
The Center for Applied Linguistics advocates children learning a language at an early age. It points out the various advantages of doing so that include expanding knowledge about other cultures, expanding children’s thinking and providing a head start for meeting the language requirements in college. Spanish learning is booming as more and more people write about the advantages of learning Spanish as a second language. The dominant reason cited by many authors online has to do with the fact Spanish is a critical language in the Americas, for both travel and for commerce. So if there are these benefits, is there any reason for not adopting Spanish officially as a second language?
First of all there is no official language at all in the United States, although some have clamored for the adoption of English as the standard. Recently a New Jersey Public Policy poll reported on the website U.S. English showed a majority of citizens of the state want English to be adopted as the official language. The margin of error was less than five percentage points. H.R. 997 has been introduced in Congress for English to be granted special status as the language of the United States with an introductory clause that states its purpose: To declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress' powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution. This is the type of bill that has been introduced a number of times before and was defeated. The English Language Unity Bill of 2009 remains on the shelf for now as there have been no recent reports concerning either its passage or demise.
Andrew Sterling, an online blogger, is one of those individuals who has written specifically against English as the official language because he says it would be difficult to determine a specific standard of English. He does, however, favor immigrants having to learn English in order to get jobs and receive other benefits, as has been reported a number of American citizens do. His argument, however, would also include Spanish in any recognition as an official language, either primary or secondary, given his reasons for not adopting English officially.
The New York Times reported Pew Research findings in 2007 that stated by the time they are adults most children of Hispanic immigrants have learned to speak English well. On the other hand only 23% of first generation immigrants do. The fact that many recent immigrants do not learn English is troublesome for many Americans, according to the Times, that reports people being concerned about the lack of Hispanic assimilation into American society and the fact that Spanish may soon be the dominant language in places like California and Texas.
Oregon is not alone in its dilemmas and how businesses, organizations and individuals handle the issue about requiring people to learn Spanish as criteria for employment and other concerns related to the adoption of an official first or second language. In the meantime, as one advertisement maintains in the Oregon newspaper recently, “only bilingual need apply” continues to be a contentious issue.
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