How I Am Promoting English-Language Acquisition Amonst Latino Immigrants

Presidential candidate Barack Obama recently said “Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.” He’s been criticized for that comment, but I agree with him. As I’ve found, having to put up with gringo efforts at Spanish (like mine) encourages Latino immigrants to pull out and practice their English much better than speaking English does.

For several months now, the local day laborers, the night janitor in Peter’s office building, the strawberry man, and my neighbors and their friends have had their social skills tested by my Spanish, which came from an aborted series of lessons with Auralog, a library book called Spanish for Gringos (without the audio portion), and children’s television shows. Guess what?! Everyone realized their English, as limited as it may be, was worlds better than my Spanish, and they had nothing to be embarrassed about. Soon we were communicating just fine, and I learned some salsa dance steps to boot.

In fact, at times, their English may be even more understandable than mine. For instance, I can never get the pronounciation of nut names right. Is it k-SHOE, or CASH-oo; PEE-can, or P-kawn? No matter what I say, people don’t know what I’m talking about. A native Spanish speaker speaking English, however, will say “thees nut, it ees the nut from Brazeel,” or “thees nut, eet comes from Texas.” Charming and comprehensible, so why speak Spanish?

Most Americans (at least here in the West) have had some Spanish in high school, but won’t speak it, because they know it’s so awful. But honestly, fellow Americans, pull that near-forgotten knowledge out and spring it on some unsuspecting day laborer when he least expects it! Barack Obama is right: speak Spanish! That’ll teach the immigrants how important it is to speak English in America; it’s the only thing that will save their beautiful language from horrible abuse.

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