It seems there is a constant fear in the U.S. that Spanish will take over English and that life as those proud to only speak English will forever be changed for the worse as a result. They complain that immigrants do not learn English quickly enough or at all. Interesting how they so readily point the finger, when they themselves only speak English.
While it is very important to be proficient in English in order to participate in U.S. society and the global market, the emphasis on English-only communication can lead to the loss of proficiency in Spanish.
The truth is that by the third generation, Latinos have a tendency to speak very little or no Spanish at all. This could be a result of a number of reasons: Spanish is not spoken in the home or children are not encouraged to answer in Spanish, children do not pursue options to learn Spanish as they grow older and resort to English in any situation.
In my situation I grew up away from my Panamanian side of the family and it wasn’t until I started taking classes in high school and spent a year in Madrid that my fluency in this beautiful language progressed. Even though I have plenty of friends with whom I could speak Spanish on a daily basis, we always seem to resort back to English. My goal this year is to get back into studying and practicing Spanish and to be fluent by this time next year.
Those aware of and proud of their culture are no less Latino for not speaking Spanish, but I do believe that the full experience and understanding of a culture can never truly be complete without speaking the language. It gives you insights to how a culture thinks, approaches life, and communicates. It is very true that things get lost in translation and do not mean the same in another language. Not only this, but you miss the ability to fully communicate with relatives, especially the older generation and those who live in the home country.
In 2008, the Census Bureau counted over 46.9 million Latinos in the U.S. and it will be interesting to see how this number has increased in the 2010 Census. There is no reason for a loss of Spanish to occur as there are plenty of resources to prevent that, such as Rosetta Stone, books and other people. So the next time you’re speaking with someone who is learning Spanish don’t resort to English to make it easier for them or if you’re learning Spanish take every opportunity you can to improve your language skills.