Speaking plainly

Recently Governor Schwarzenegger rekindled the English-only debate while speaking to a group of Spanish-language news-media. In his remarks, he suggested that the Spanish-speaking community turn off those very T.V. stations hosting him and focus on listening to English only networks and reading English language newspapers. While pretty gutsy to challenge the reason for being of the group tho which you’ve been invited to speak, Schwarzenegger’s propensity for indelicately putting his foot in his mouth on the controversial English vs. Spanish debate stirs up strong emotions on all sides of the issue. Nonetheless, it IS a discussion worth having as it tends to divide us in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to unite around the things that we have in common.

Speak Out California’s newest board member, Dyanne Cano expressed her frustration with Schwarzenegger’s call for turning off Spanish language television and news for english only options. As a young Latina, she’s certainly no stranger to this debate nor to its impact on the Spanish-speaking population within our state.
In response to his call, Dyanne observes,
“The Sacramento Bee recently ran a story about Governor
Schwarzenegger’s inconsistent remarks about bilingual communication. See Sac Bee story http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/226681.html His
most recent comments seem to contradict his past and current usage of Spanish language outreach.
As the last election’s focus on the Latino community showed, it is
becoming increasingly apparent that the Latino vote is important. The
growing presence of Latino businesses, media, community leaders,
educators, lawyers, artists, and policymakers further proves that the
Spanish language cannot and should not be disregarded. California’s
Proposition 227 passed in 1998, effectively eliminating all bilingual
programs in schools. A five-year study released in 2006 showed no
conclusive evidence that the proposition was a positive change for
English language learners in California.
The Spanish-speaking community is a steadily growing population in
California and the debate regarding English only education versus
bilingual education will only escalate.”
In response to the Governor’s remarks calling for english immersion, a number of stories
and comments have appeared on both sides of the debate.
On one side of the divide was an article that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News where Catherine J.K. Sandoval observed that “Bilingualism should be cultivated, not discouraged.”
Her major contention is that Spanish language TV offers many cultural and broader world-benefits to its listeners.
In addition, it commends the notion of bilingualism and multilingualism as “talents to be cultivated, rather than deficiencies to be overcome.”
The response to this argument came in the same paper-in fact, in the public comment section where a naturalized American observed and bemoaned the fact that oftentimes he is unable to communicate with others because they speak a language other than english; that english is the language he now speaks so that he can communicate with those who live in this country from other lands where his native tongue is not recognized.
When the call is for English ONLY, with no recognition of other languages and cultures, the discussion often deteriorates into a racist screed and sadly misses not only the point, but possible solutions. But there is also the practical side of the debate, as this anonymous writer observes. Don’t we need to have at least one language that we can all speak and understand so we can communicate, so we can understand each other? With a state such as ours where over 100 languages are spoken, who will be able to understand their neighbors if we don’t settle on one language which we all speak?
Could we have a rational and honest debate on this issue? Should we be a nation that speaks more than one language, yet has a predominant tongue that all agree to speak as well? Why English ONLY? Why not English FIRST, but Spanish as well as an Asian language—like Mandarin or Japanese? After all, California has an immense trade relationship with both geographical areas? Why must this be an either/or discussion? Can’t we be fluent in several other languages, as they are in Europe to accommodate their diversity yet close proximity? As the world gets smaller and smaller, whether through the internet or out-sourcing, would we not benefit by being able to understand other cultures and their languages and customs?
As China hold more and more of our nation’s debt, as India becomes the nation to which we connect when we dial for credit card information or plane reservations, as the Euro becomes stronger and stronger against the dollar, shouldn’t we be positioning ourselves to communicate best and most effectively in this global economy? How about an honest dialogue on English FIRST, but not English ONLY—any takers?