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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Bilingual Broadcaster Busts Norms

As if calls for deportation and border fences along Mexico and Canada weren’t already sinking Republican chances of winning over Latino voters in 2016, Republican candidates have recently begun championing a new line of rhetoric concerning the national language of the United States.

To be clear, the United States doesn’t have an official language. Various movements have tried over the years to impart English with this honor, but so far none have been successful, and English, Spanish, Mandarin and every other language remain equally unofficial. Unfortunately, Carly Fiorina, candidate for President of the United States, mistakenly identified English as the official language in a recent television interview. Although this isn’t a huge deal, it still seems like something someone running for the most powerful job in the world should know.

What may become problematic for the Republican Party is that Fiorina’s gaffe was just the beginning.

Soon after came Donald Trump criticizing Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish at campaign rallies followed by Sarah Palin declaring on national television that people should “speak American” in this country. It’s these comments, coupled with the constant calls for deportation from Republican candidates, that lead many to believe the GOP may struggle quite a bit with Latino voters in 2016.

In a recent MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, led Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, 69-22 percent among Latino voters. Despite winning 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the Republican Party has since seen a steep decline in support from Hispanics, a phenomena that can be partly attributed to their far right positions on immigration.

What’s more problematic than the general inaccuracy surrounding U.S. language policy is the way in which candidates for President are so quick to label anything other than English as Un-American. The U.S. has long toted its “Melting Pot” demographics and the diversity that separates it from other Western countries. A country supposedly rooted in a foundation of freedom would in theory fight to preserve the right of its citizens to speak their language of choice.

With that said, the U.S. government, or at least the government of Arizona, should look into broadening second language requirements in the K-12 system. High school students in Arizona don’t have to take any foreign language classes to graduate and the Department of Education is unable to force a state to change its education standards. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that only 20 percent of U.S. citizens, according to the 2010 census, speak two languages at home compared to the 60 percent or more in most European countries.

The benefits to acquiring a second language and bilingualism in general are numerous. Medically speaking, there is evidence to suggest that learning a second language can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia as the population ages. Additionally, learning a second language significantly increases cognitive ability, which relates to memory, problem solving, and logic.

And it’s not just health and academic benefits. Omar Pereyra, President of Club Latino at the UA writes, “As an immigrant from Mexico that grew up both in a Spanish and English speaking household I found it very beneficial being able to communicate in both languages, because it allowed me to connect with those that could not speak English, it helped me learn other languages, and it allowed me to connect with my culture. It’s both culturally important and it bridges the gap between cultures and people.”

With immigration debates drawing sizable attention from the media, hopefully the U.S. can take advantage of this opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about the benefits of bilingualism. For many, language is a critical piece of their identity and heritage. Cultivating the unique cultures of Americans, in addition to the medical, cognitive, and educational benefits of learning a second language, are all testaments to the ways in which bilingualism would only improve, and not detract from, the melting pot of the United States. A renewed commitment to second language programs and bilingualism in the U.S. would certainly mark an ironic and helpful response to the incessant ignorance and xenophobia found in the political arena.

Follow Maddie Pickens on Twitter.

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