Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama Says Americans Should be Bilingual!

Although I considered adding this article to my The Most Hated Gringo in the World segment, this time I won't. You can tell me if you hate me as a result of reading the article in the comment or email section at the bottom of this post.

Not Knowing A Foreign Language is Embarrassing

In CBS NEWS' From The Road column, Maria Gavrilovic reports the following on Presidential hopeful Barack Obama:

"(DAYTON, OHIO) “I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing!” Barack Obama exclaimed today at town hall meeting here. Obama, who often touts his time growing up overseas, made the confession while speaking about the importance of teaching foreign languages in schools." (Source)

Americans continue to flounder in their bilingual failure rate of more than 96% and continue to ignore the benefits of bilingual education. Not only is America fastly becoming noncompetitive because of its dogged refusal to learn a second, third, and fourth language, but Americans also ignore a host of reasons, some crucial, for spending their lives learning new languages (a not-impossible task even though Americans want to resort to the self-imposed and acclaimed "I am too busy" whine).

Learning Language Benefits

Cognitive Benefits - Children in foreign language programs have tended to demonstrate greater cognitive development, creativity, and divergent thinking than monolingual children. Several studies show that people who are competent in more than one language outscore those who are speakers of only one language on tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence (Bruck, Lambert, and Tucker, 1974; Hakuta, 1986; Weatherford, 1986). Other studies suggest that students who are learning another language show greater creativity at solving complex problems than their monolingual peers (Bamford and Mizokawa, 1991). Recent research indicates, "the length of time students study a foreign language relates directly and positively to higher levels of cognitive and metacognitive processing" (Rosenbusch, 1995).

Academic Benefits - Studies also show that learning another language enhances the academic skills of students by increasing their abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics. A 1994 report on the impact of magnet schools in the Kansas City Public Schools showed that students in the foreign language magnet schools had boosted achievement significantly (Eaton, 1994). It reported that students in the language magnet’s first kindergarten, starting in the program in 1988, had surpassed national averages in all subjects by the time they reached fifth grade. And the foreign language students performed especially well in mathematics. Similar studies with students in intensive second language programs show these students scoring as well as or better than their monolingual peers on standardized achievement tests in basic skills. In the Cincinnati Public Schools, 2,901 learners in grades K-8 are enrolled in the district’s foreign language magnet schools. In 1994, the California Achievement Test was administered to all learners in grades K-8 and 10. A higher percentage of learners in the foreign language magnet schools were at or above the national norm in comparison with non -magnet learners in reading, language, and mathematics. Children in Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia, who were enrolled in the district’s foreign language partial immersion program, achieved higher test scores in English language arts than did their non-immersion peers. The K-8 French and Spanish immersion schools in the Columbus, Ohio City School District are two of the top four elementary schools whose students pass all five sections of the state proficiency tests in reading, writing, mathematics, science, and citizenship. Students who complete a long sequence of foreign language learning increase their academic skills in other subject areas. In "Foreign Language Study and SAT-Verbal Scores," the authors found that learners who study a foreign language improve their scores on the verbal sections of standardized exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT) and that scores continue to climb with each additional year of language study (College Entrance Examination Board, 1992; Cooper, 1987).

Societal Benefits - People who communicate in at least two languages are an asset to the communities in which they live and work. Increasing numbers of jobs now require people who are capable of interacting with people who speak languages other than English and can adapt to a wide range of cultural backgrounds. In addition, the ability to communicate in a foreign language contributes to a student’s overall achievement of personal and professional career goals. Four out of five new jobs in the United States are created as a result of foreign trade. Each year 200,000 Americans lose out on jobs with business because they do not know another language (The Tongue Tied American). According to the Kiplinger Washington Editors (1996), the Hispanic share of the work force will increase by 25 percent by 2010. The Asian share will increase by 50 percent. Minorities will keep moving up the corporate ladder in the next 15 years. Managers who know how to deal with a diverse work force will have an advantage. The telecommunications industry has provided us with the opportunity to communicate on a worldwide basis. To keep pace with this new global marketplace, our educational system must provide learners with the interactive linguistic and cultural skills for the day-to-day situations of employment both at home and around the world.

Why Johnny Can't Speak a Foreign Language

Unlike the rest of the world, the Land-of-Milk-and-Honey Americans don't perceive a need to learn a foreign language. Furthermore, they choose consistently to wallow in their prejudices against Mexicans in their refusal to learn the language they would have the highest degree of success in learning.

French (in Canada) and Spanish (in Mexico) are the two languages spoken in the countries nearest to our borders. This is a no-brainer, folks.

Europeans and Mexicans tend to be bi-, tri-, and quad-lingual because they have the need to be due to the fact they are border-to-border neighbors with people who speak other languages.

However, in America, even in the States bordering Canada and Mexico, you do not find the preponderance of French and Spanish speakers you would expect. There are more than in the rest of the country but not as many as you would expect. The exception would be El Paso, Texas, but easily explained because most of those who are bilingual are of Mexican heritage. White people in El Paso generally don't speak Spanish and tend to segregate themselves by having the "brown stores" and the "white stores." It is sickeningly pathetic. But, they surely want their brown-skinned cheap labor.

Why Speak Spanish?

Spanish is critical for the following professions:

·Criminal justice
·Emergency services
·Employment and welfare offices
·Law enforcement
·Social work
·Travel industry
·US Customs

An interesting exchange in the From The Road column was in the Reader's Comments Section:

"As an immigrant I am appalled by the statement made by Senator Obama. One of the fundamental benefits of US citizenship is the right to make our own choices. I reserve my right to choose which second, or in my case third language I learn. I learned English when I came to America without any special free classes. All Americans should be unified by a common language, those who come here and choose not to learn our language is not citizens, they are invaders."

I agree with this comment as far as it goes. The reader was putting words into Obama's mouth, as another reader commented.

"Wow, way to put words in Obama's mouth! While I am a McCain supporter and I believe that there are other education reforms that should be of higher priority than foreign languages, Obama did NOT say that he wanted to make learning Spanish mandatory. He simply said that Americans would greatly benefit from learning more languages, and the most obvious first choice would clearly be Spanish for obvious reasons. I entirely agree that Americans should be minimally competent in at least one other language, although there are more important educational reforms that need to be addressed first.

We need to stop being so elitist about English and get over ourselves already. NEWSFLASH: AMERICA HAS NO OFFICIAL LANGUAGE. To impose an official language would be and completely antithetical to the basis of what this country was founded upon."

Though this is a more accurate comment on Obama's quote, here are two points I garnered from both comments and which really give a synthesis of why so many Americans don't (won't) learn a new language, especially Spanish:

1. They are elitists about English.

2. They are bigots about Mexicans.

Regarding the point made in the end of the first quote: "…those who come here and choose not to learn our language is not citizens, they are invaders."

This is what I have been preaching from the rooftops about the Gringolandians in Mexico. They come here in a self-proclamation they are expats when, in fact, they are invaders.

They rarely, if ever, learn Spanish.

So, what do you think?

Talk to me.

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