Buenos dias, y’all. It’s time
A couple of recent experiences provoked some thoughts about Texans and bilingualism.
The first was seeing a play completely in Spanish. Granddaughter Stella, 12, the only Anglo actor, played a tiger. Her lone line
was “Grrrrrrrr!” which in English is “Grrrr!”
My Spanish is muy malo (very bad). It took five semesters in college to get the necessary three semesters credit to graduate.
The kids performing the play wrote it, so it contained few of the words in my Spanish vocabulary -- like dos cervezas, por favor (two beers, please), or tienes hielo? (do you have ice?)
I caught about every eighth word. I’m still not sure what the play was about.
And we wondered, what’s it like for a Spanish speaker with little English to sit through a play in English? Or a school class?
A few days later, I was leading a half-dozen elected officials from Spain on a brief tour of the Texas capitol, before talking to them about Texas and national politics and government.
Two Senate committees were meeting that day. We separately bumped into a couple of senators, who I introduced to the group visiting a few American cities on a State Department-sponsored tour.
When the first senator, Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, began talking in English, one of their two translators quietly started translating into Spanish into a small microphone, which the visitors could hear in earpieces. I asked Sen. Lucio to speak Spanish, and he switched without pausing.
The same thing happened later when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, stepped out of a committee hearing to talk for a couple of minutes. English, then Spanish. What a gift to be able to speak both of the principal languages of most people in Texas.
Regardless of how the hot political controversy over Arizona’s new law to have local cops act as immigration law enforcers is resolved, we in Texas should begin to make sure our children and grandchildren have maximum opportunity to read, write and speak fluently both English and Spanish.
Most of our neighbors in Mexico and Central and South America speak Spanish. Not only do many of them come to Texas and the United States, a considerable number of kids were born in America of parents who speak only Spanish.
Rather than seek to punish or ignore this situation, a growing number of Texas school districts are taking advantage of it through dual-language programs – most recently Austin, which is planning to phase it in in seven elementary schools.
In dual-language schools, children are taught from an early age in both Spanish and English. In some cases, morning lessons are taught in one language and afternoon lessons in the other.
This means that both groups of students are exposed to both languages – and for half the day, the Spanish-speaking kids are the experts, who can help their classmates whose first language is English learn Spanish. And vice versa.
There is no question it is very important for people in this state and country to be fluent in English. It’s the language in most legislative and governmental bodies. It also years ago replaced French as the principal language of diplomacy. It is the international language between pilots and air controllers.
It’s so important to international commerce that countries like China and South Korea now stress the importance of their kids beginning to study English at a young age. The country with the most people who speak English before long could be China, if it isn’t already.
But in Texas, for the next several years, if not decades, fluency in Spanish is also very important to our students socially, culturally and commercially. Bilingualism has become a valuable, sought-after qualification.
Most Americans have been linguistically spoiled. Our country is so large that many Americans are fluent only in English.
But go to Europe, and particularly smaller countries, and it is almost the norm that people speak four or five languages. I have cousins in Denmark who speak Danish, Swedish, English, French and German, and often a smattering of Russian and Italian.
We should at least be making an effort to be able to communicate effectively with our neighbors to the south – a considerable number of whom are becoming our neighbors down the street. Many Spanishspeakers are living in Texas, as legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, or American-born.
We’ll be shorting ourselves and our children, and missing a great opportunity, if we fail to do everything we can to allow our Texas Spanish-speakers to be fluent in English.
And we’ll be shortchanging our English-speaking children if we don’t enable them, from an early age, to become fluent in Spanish.
Let’s do it, amigos. It’s time. Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail. com or (512) 458-2963.