Like most other Jews, the legacy of over 2000 years of diaspora, including expulsions and flight from many nations, means that I have relatives in many other countries. When I was 12 years old, I travelled to Mexico City to attend my cousin Susy’s wedding, and that is when I met my many Mexican relatives, with whom I still stay in close contact. It was during this trip, that I made a commitment to learn Spanish, and while I am not fluent, I can carry on a conversation and make myself understood when necessary. Perhaps the highest compliment of my Spanish came when I travelled to Costa Rica, and a local told me I spoke Spanish like a Mexican.
Due to the world-wide dominance of the English language, too many Americans fail to learn another language. Given that the US now has more Spanish speakers than Spain and more than any country other than Mexico, sound education policy would require all schoolchildren to learn Spanish starting at an early age when children’s brains absorb new languages much more easily. In fact the Index for Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, after English. Sadly, instead, have a long history of states who want to pass xenophobic English-only laws instead. This trend is exacerbated by a drop in those studying foreign languages in the United States.
Yesterday, we were having some work done on our bathroom. The workers handed me an invoice and I asked them if they wanted me to write them a check right then or send it to the office. One of them responded by saying, “no hablo inglés.” When I was immediately able to switch to Spanish and ask the same question in Spanish, he broke out in a big smile and simply told me to send it to the office. That led to him telling me that he was surprised I spoke Spanish. I told him I had Mexican cousins. He asked me where and the conversation continued and we both became more human to each other.
Speaking someone else’s language has so many benefits, from business transactions to simply getting from point A to point B. Obviously, nobody can learn every language in the world, but when traveling, it is at least common courtesy to learn how to say please and thank you in the language of the country you are visiting.
However, the most important thing about learning someone else’s language is that you are demonstrating that you recognize their humanity as equal to yours and that recognition helps connect each of us to each other. The stronger the connection, the more likely that the human family will help each other rather than hate, fight and often kill each other.
So, instead of English only laws, declining support for teaching foreign languages and worst of all, building walls along our border, let us move instead towards requiring learning Spanish as a second language laws to bring us closer together.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.