Double-take: Bilingual students to excel in ever-changing culture

Carly Yamrus, Opinion Editor

For as long as I can remember, quite a few efforts have been made in my educational career to force me to understand the Spanish language.
In elementary school we had the puppet videos. Middle school we had some arts and crafts here and there … by high school we had started really getting into the hard stuff: colors. And then again in college where we combined all three levels of learning and wrapped it up into a crash course into a liberal arts mandatory requirement.
Here we are, 15 years after I was first introduced to the language and I still can only count to 10, I can name the colors on a good day, and I know how to ask for bacon.
As I recently went through a job shadow in sales, I realized more than ever how necessary it is that we learn and know Spanish.
The customers were Hispanic. We spoke English. What good is it to be a salesperson if you cannot even begin to explain who you are and why you are standing in front of them?
This language barrier deters all possible conversations as well as transactions. What you get are two people standing next to each other repeating the same message over and over again, dumbing down the messages into short, broken phrases or even single words.
Not so surprisingly, there are many people in this country who believe that we are not obligated to learn Spanish, because after all, this is America and we speak English.
Those who have that obstinate viewpoint are in for a rude awakening.
By 2050, the United States is estimated to be the largest Spanish speaking country in the world. Like it or not, Spanish is America’s second language and the numbers of Spanish-speakers will only increase in coming years.
We need to embrace this.
Learning Spanish is quite difficult, especially when we only speak English and are attempting to learn at an older age.
We had the right idea in elementary schools where we would teach young students whose minds are amendable and who had a positive attitude about learning another language. The older we get, the less willing we are to start learning a language, mainly because it’s hard. It takes a lot of practice. A lot of us just don’t have the time for that.
If we started early and really focused on the language with a long-term goal in mind, I suppose we would have a better turn out by the time those children reach secondary education. I’m sure the puppets were fun but I really got nothing out of Spanish in elementary school. It was treated as a “special” class, only taken once a week.
Even in college, Spanish is not “mandatory.” Here, you can take philosophy instead of a language. What good is that?
Knowing a second language will eventually be extremely beneficial. Because bilinguists are in such high demand, they will without a doubt be offered a job over someone who only speaks English. These language skills will be necessary in almost all fields of work, including business, medicine and education.
At the time, I did not realize the importance of learning another language. I didn’t care at all. I used the time during class to do other homework or put on makeup. A big part of this was the lack of diversity in this area. A lot of us come from small, rural towns throughout the tri-state area that sheltered us from diversity entirely. Instilled in us was this selfish attitude of “why do I have to learn this?”
I sure hope that my kids will be learning Spanish more efficiently than I did so they are prepared for the future. I hope they are more understanding and willing to learn than we were.
Necesitamos Español!  (That’s all I got.)