Categorías: Latino News
Opinion: Latinos must challenge America's bilingual double standard
Published: 29/7/10 a las 1:15PM
Shortly after the school year ended, a column on the Washington Post website caught my eye. Jay Mathews, the education columnist, answered a reader who took issue with his praise of a school that improved its average score in the Advanced Placement tests. The commenter argued that Spanish-speaking students were taking the Spanish AP test and skewing the average score, calling it a "fabrication of academic performance."
Mathews deconstructed his complaint and found it baseless, since the Spanish AP scores didn't inflate the school's total AP results by any significant amount, but it got him thinking on the subject of bilingualism. He noticed a double standard at work: His two Anglo children, who learned to master Spanish in school, get recognition for that achievement, but the Spanish-speaking students who learn to master English and Spanish are treated as cheats who use an unfair advantage.
"So why are we not similarly gratified when Hispanic students with fewer advantages than my kids work just as hard to master the same two important languages?" he asked.
Very good question. I almost dread the answer, if there is one. We have to untangle a very complicated thicket of attitudes, prejudices and even the subconscious.
Almost 30 years ago, sociologist Rolf Kjolseth published a paper titled ¨The Cultural Politics of Bilingualism,¨ that argued Americans think of language in terms of their identity, and that´s one reason they discourage the children of immigrants from keeping their first language while encouraging their own children to learn a second one. Many other linguists and sociologists, such as the late Nancy Zelasko of the National Association for Bilingual Education, have also called out that double standard.
And before I start a flame war, let me be clear: I'm not arguing Hispanics shouldn't learn English. The ability to communicate is simply crucial to the community's progress.
And communicate we must. Because just as the author of Mathews´message, many Anglos have no clue what´s involved in having true mastery of a second language.
I know from my experience writing in both English and Spanish, that it's not as easy as some people think. Operating biligually is like singing one song while listening to another. Your brain is forced to operate on two tracks and keep from getting derailed.
Our monolingual friends have both a narrow view of what it takes to be fluently bilingual, and an inflated view of its rewards.
I love it when my friends bring up my Spanish fluency during bull sessions about the job market. They assume I have an instant leg up because I'm bilingual. Not true. Unless a job specifically requires that skill (such as being an AOL Noticias columnist) the skill falls into the category of "isn't that nice" and that's it.
Let's just be clear about things: If bilingualism is such an advantage, how is it that Latinos are still poorer on average than almost any ethnic group in the U.S.? You'd think we'd be first in line for jobs.
At a time when some are acting as if the country were under siege from Hispanics (especially in Arizona), let's inject a bit of reason into this debate on bilingualism.
No one has to lose here. No matter who, being bilingual is a win-win, as we say in English. Why does it have to be so hard to get that thought across?
Categorías: Latino News
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