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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 Maitri Pamo

Matri was born in Guatemala City and emigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a toddler. Her childhood years were spent in Washington D.C. She was fortunate to have been aided and encouraged to apply to a great school in Virginia by a teacher who saw a spark in her when she taught her in the DC public school system. Maitri was disadvantaged in that she then became the only Latina in her class for many years. When it came time to go to college, she left for New York City, the place of her childhood dreams, to attend Barnard College, Columbia University. She graduated with a degree in Foreign Area Studies, with a concentration in Latin America. When she finally realized what she wanted to do professionally, she enrolled in three extra years of undergraduate coursework in order to fulfill the requirements for application to veterinary medical school. She graduated from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition to her professional life, a life she finds not only rewarding but constantly challenging, Maitri is a wife and a mother of three young children. She is an activist, interested in furthering knowledge, participating and directly involving herself in the areas of human and non human animal rights and environmentalism. She tries to engage in the world around her to influence it as much as she can to help secure a healthy, peaceful living environment for her children and all other living beings on the planet. She is a benevolent misanthrope, a polyglot, a lover of travel. She has wild plans of obtaining a law degree when her children are older. She is currently practicing emergency medicine and volunteers her services wherever they are needed.

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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