Studies to Prove Bilingualism is Good? Ay!
Sometimes, hearing stories and studies about bilingualism and bilingual education make me want to bang my big fat cabeza against a wall. A thick wall. Even when the stories and studies are praising the value of being bilingual.
Why do my pantalones get all up in a knot?
Because, really, who the heck doesn’t see the value in being bilingual? Who can truly make the case that bilingualism isn’t of benefit? Especially, when there are generations of us bilinguals living, and thriving and contributing in the United States?
NPR has done a wonderful series on being Latino in the United States this month. But, when I heard this in this morning’s report on a bilingual school, I almost had a patatú.
There are about 440 public bilingual immersion schools across the country, up from only a handful in the 1970s. A growing number today teach Mandarin and French, not just Spanish.
But in some states — California, Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts — bilingual immersion programs are banned because a majority of voters don’t think children can learn proper English and hold on to a foreign language and culture at the same time.
It’s an issue that gets caught up in the angry debate over illegal immigration, especially from Spanish-speaking countries. Even in Miami, when Rosa de La O tells people her kids attend a bilingual school, some always ask, “Are we loyal? Are we not? Is a child is going to absorb that?” she says.
Every time I read, or hear about, a study saying bilingualism is good, I go “Duh.” Anytime I hear someone freaking out about, or deriding, Spanish-speakers I go “Really?” (or “Como?” depending on my mood)
To me, a study that concludes bilingualism is good is like a study that says eating fruits and vegetables is good. Of course, it is good.
These studies of bilingualism only serve to remind me there are plenty out there who put down bilinguals, Latinos, Spanish-speakers or anyone else with roots elsewhere …elsewhere being anywhere but where the critic thinks they should be.
Seriously, I want to bang my head.
I attended a little parochial school in Miami — founded in Cuba 100 years ago by American missionaries. We were taught in English and had two classes a day in Spanish: Bible study and Spanish language class.
Most of us were the children of exiles, most of whom had been in the United States less than 20 years at that time. We spoke Spanish at home and both English and Spanish at school. We switched back and forth with each other all day long.
Reunions and Facebook tell me my former classmates are smart, productive members of society in Miami, and beyond. They habla two languages sin problema. I think most of their kids do too, but certainly not the way we did when we were little. (Holding on to a Mother Tongue beyond the first and second generation growing up here in America takes work, si?)
As children, we didn’t think much about our dual language ability. It just was. And personally, in my youth, I found it shocking when someone didn’t speak two languages. No adult in our lives questioned our ability to learn, to grow, to prosper because we spoke en español. If anything, we always were told our bilingualism was a gift, keys to a kingdom called The American Dream.
I believed it then, and I believe it now.
It’s why I’m teaching my Nashville, TN-born semi-Latina to speak Spanish. It ain’t mucho easy, but I’m doing a pretty good job.
And, in teaching her stuff like aserrín, aserrán and a deep love of dulce de leche, I also feed her propaganda: “Speaking two languages helps with math and music!” “Speaking two languages means you can order ice cream and get directions in 21 different countries!” “Selena Gomez speaks Spanish too!”
Ay, bendito. I’m keeping the messages of worry, concern and disdain about bilingualism very far from my girl. In our world, it’s an asset.
I don’t need a study to tell me so.
And, hear this: Bilingualism, and holding on to your Latino culture, doesn’t make you less American either.
Listen to the children quoted in the NPR story:
So how do the three children identify themselves?
“Umm … I guess Spanish-speaking American,” Anna says.
“American … I have to use [Spanish] with my grandparents,” Rebecca says, adding that she never uses it with her friends.
“I speak Spanglish… I say ‘Necesito ayuda con my homework,’” Miguel says.
More links to NPR’s recent Latinos in America stories, plus support — and yes, studies — for bilingualism can be found at my favorite site supporting bilingual and bicultural families, Spanglish Baby.