By: Tom Malone
It’s a good thing my brother took Spanish in high school. My family and I arrived in Mexico in 2008 and had no way to communicate with any local person we saw. We needed to eat, drink water, and find activities with which we
could occupy our time. My brother’s minimal Spanish experience helped us acquire the basic essentials in the land of our neighbors to the South.
United States diplomats strive to maintain a peaceful stance in terms of relations with our fellow North American countries, but in order to cultivate friendly relations with our Mexican and Canadian neighbors, our general populous must be able to communicate.
Though many Oregonians may never visit Mexico or the French speaking areas of Canada (nearly 80% of Quebec citizens use French), the language barrier in the United States grows larger every year. According to CIA.gov, English comprises only 82% of the languages spoken in the United States, while Spanish sits at 10.7%.
The need for Spanish in the workplace and everyday social interactions rises with every new immigrant from a Spanish-speaking country. The latest census estimated that 48.4 million Spanish-speaking immigrants live in the US.
Though the need for proficiency in French does not rank as high as the need for Spanish fluency, the need exists. According to a 2007 study by the US Census Bureau, nearly 2 million people in our country use French regularly in their home.
US students are not keeping up with the demand for multilingual proficiency.
Deborah Sharp of USA Today found that only 1.1 million high school students study French, while only 3.3 million study Spanish.
Until 1975, Francisco Franco ruled Spain through his fascist dictatorship, which outlawed the learning or speaking of any language besides Castilian Spanish.
Cristina Rodriguez, a native Spaniard and student at the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain, says that it is now often required for Spanish students to learn more than three languages during their educational endeavors (she speaks four fluently and her major isn’t remotely geared towards linguistic studies).
Europeans learn multiple languages since they are positioned around vastly different countries that each use different languages. The European Union recognizes 23 officially. The US rests between two countries that use different idioms.
We only have to learn two languages besides English to effectively communicate with our neighbors. We have the opportunity to do so, so why don’t we?
This article originally appeared in the Oregon Herald as The Great American Language Gap on July 12, 2011.