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What do you call someone who only speaks one language?

Yo puedo escribirles de esta manera. Puedo escribir estas hermosas palabras en Español y hay muchos de nosotros quienes comprendemos este idioma y lo hablamos orgullosamente. And I was not surprised to learn that the individuals involved in the race to become the republican presidential nominee have patriotically stated that they support English as the official language of the U.S. The English-only debate is not new, and there has been a sustained, well-publicized effort since the 1980’s to push the agenda of a monolingual nation. But the control of language has deep roots not only in the U.S. but the world over.
Just recently, I had an enlightening conversation with a colleague. As a child in Louisiana, he was physically punished for speaking French in school. Then

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there is the pesky question of the concerted effort the U.S. government put forth, to eradicate the languages of Native American people whose lands were invaded and appropriated. The xenophobia underlying these measures was not veiled at that time. Nor is it subtle today. Anti-immigrant sentiment has undoubtedly contributed to the ongoing quest for monolingual domination of the nation. Many countries have sought to control populations with this tactic.

It is a peculiar quest for insularity. Learning and speaking different languages not only has immense benefits, but it is a portal to other cultures, and can lead to a greater understanding of people and the socio-political context that informs their actions and collective understanding of the world around them.

Why, then, in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller, due to technology and ease of travel, would we seek to inculcate in the mentality of the U.S. populace, that it is important to remain the monolingual wonder of the world? While the proponents of the single language crusade will quickly point out that officially, the movement is about keeping the official business of the community English-only, the subtext is clear: implicit state-sponsored condescension toward the use of languages other than English. It is easy to extrapolate that having the backing of a state-sponsored monolinguist bias bolsters the biases that lead to the “I don’t want to push #1 for English” bumper stickers that abound.

There is rarely a good reason to seek to close yourself off from methods of communication with your neighbors. This is especially true when you’re seeking to enhance peaceful and respectful co-existence with an international community. The U.S. would do well to foster respect, and encourage the exploration of other cultures, through the embracing of multilinguilism for all citizens. It is the mindset of openness that is directly attacked with the cries for, “One country, One language”. The European method of multiple language instruction should be our model. It would be an important stride to be able to disprove the old joke:

What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What about someone who speaks two? Bilingual.
What about someone who only speaks one? An American.

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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