Hola America

One huge change I see in the US (or at least in the area where I live) since I last lived here in early 2008 is the growing presence of the Spanish language.  The country has moved from being English language only when I left to suddenly acknowledging the presence of the large Hispanic population.

I realized this one day when I went to buy a toaster and paused for a very long time.  I couldn’t figure out what was written on the box.  Spanish!  Having grown up in Canada, I’m used to bilingual packaging, but in that case I can read (fairly well) both the English and French sides of the packaging.  The amusing thing about me and Spanish packaging is that I sort of, kind of understand written Spanish.  I generally have to translate it into French and then I sort of get what’s going on.

When I was doing my political science degree one of the subjects I took was language policy.  There was a great deal of discussion about the differences between Canada (legally bilingual, and supportive of other language groups) and the US (obstinately English only). The US seemed to be stuck in the pre-1968 thinking of Canada that if you ignore other languages for long enough, they will go away.  With the 1968 Bilingualism and Biculturalism laws, Canada went a long way to removing the stigma of being a French speaker in Canada and pushed the country into a new era of bilingualism.  I began my French studies at 8 and by the time I finished grad school I was bilingual.

Not so in the US.  In fact, I remember laws being passed prohibiting Massachusetts teachers from speaking other languages in the classroom (unless they were teaching a language class, of course).

What brought the change?  Is this the new Obama America, able to embrace diversity?  Something else?

I’ve been surprised by how many jobs I’ve looked at that require the candidates to be bilingual in English and Spanish.

Time to learn a third language, I guess!


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