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Setting the bar low at bilingualism

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Who knew bilingualism was a good thing?

“Having command of Spanish and English means, for Latino women, a competitive advantage, several outstanding Hispanic figures from the political, activism and business spheres said Monday.

‘Being bilingual is an incredible opportunity. I have two children and I’m concerned for both to speak Spanish as well as English, because that’s going to help them in their professional careers just like it helped me,’ Lidia Soto-Harmon, CEO of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, told Efe.

The majority of female Latino leaders participating in the 25th anniversary of the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington agreed.

‘There are occasions on which speaking Spanish has negative connotations and that makes the second generations want to distance themselves from the language of their parents,’ said Soto-Harmon, something that has to be ‘avoided at all costs,’ since it would mean ‘that the doors to infinite opportunities would close on them.’ “

I’m an avid reader of Fox News Latino, but this is one of those duh articles stating the obvious.

Sure, I’ve come out against a “learn English” requirement policy for new Americans, but I never said learning English was a bad idea. Bilingualism is always preferred over monolingualism. Heck, why stop there? You should be able to read, write and speak in three or four languages, like the Europeans do. Learn as many languages as you can. It can only help you in your education and your career.

(I can already see some of BL’s more conservative readers saying, “You want us to be more like the Europeans?!” Yes. Yes I do.)

Soto-Harmon brings up an excellent point when she talks about kids wanting to avoid using Spanish “at all costs” for fear of coming across to… immigrant-y. I’ve seen it.

My wife’s 8-year-old daughter was perusing her mother’s iPod when she quipped, “Mom, you’re so Mexican.” Whenever we tell her to clean her room or get ready for bed — in Spanish, of course, because commands always sound better in Spanish — the escuincla invariably says, “I don’t know what you’re saying, so whatever.”

Last night we made arroz con gandules, frijoles and flautas — that’s what you get when a Puerto Rican marries a Mexican. The little booger says, “This is good!” When we ask her if she means the flautas are good, she picks up a flauta and says, “No, this.”

You get the sad picture.

We have to teach our kids Spanish. And this isn’t some call for cultural preservation. I’m no purist. But Latino kids should know Spanish, just like they should be able to cook traditional meals. It’s called heritage, passing down to our children what we’ve learned from our parents, ensuring that the next generation will have more tools for success than we had.

For career purposes, Latino kids should know English and Spanish (and Mandarin, most likely). They should know French and Arabic and Japanese. They should learn as many languages as they can, because they have nothing better to do — unless learning a new language cuts into TV time.

I say teach your kid one more language than you yourself know, so that they’re that much better than you are.

That’s the whole point of having kids, isn’t it?

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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