Friday, October 27, 2006

So while people in Tennesse want nothing to do with Spanish, Latin Americans flock to learn Chinese

Readers of this blog know that I always advocate for people learning other languages. Here is another example of why people may want to study other languages and cultures.

Recently, there was a little spat in Tennessee over a social studies teacher who wanted his local public library to stop buying Spanish books and materials. Oh, by the way, he also wanted to get rid of the bilingual librarian. Actually, multilingual since she is not only fluent in English and Spanish but also American Sign Language. He wanted her citizenship status checked because she has Puerto Rican parents. To reassure readers, she was actually born in New Jersey, but even if she had been born in the island, she would still be an American citizen since all Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth. A little something called the 1917 Jones Act. I think it is one of those little details you learn in social studies classes. Well, except in that Lewisburg teacher's classroom apparently. Find the story here and here, with an opinion column on the topic here. Find the news clip here (try not cringe). So, while some people take pride in their ignorance, or at least aspire to remain ignorant, in other parts of the world, they are rushing to learn more foreign languages. And yes, I say they aspire to remain ignorant if they fail to realize that very often someone who is bilingual already speaks English as one of the two languages. They simply speak something else as well.

The Washington Post for September 22, 2006 provides a story on "Across Latin America, Mandarin is in the Air." The story is written by Juan Forero. It turns out China is broadening its trade with Latin America, and as part of those efforts they are going so far as to help fund programs in Latin America for people to learn the Mandarin Chinese. As a result, there is an incentive for people there to learn the language as there is money to be made from the business opportunities.

An excerpt from the article:

Chinese companies are investing in farmland and energy installations in Brazil. Beijing has signed a free-trade agreement with Chile, its first with a Latin American country, while announcing investments in the Chilean copper industry and gas and oil fields in Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. Beijing has also cemented a $5 billion oil deal with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, which is seeking to diversify exports to other countries beyond the United States.

The arrival of China in a largely Spanish-speaking region half a world away might seem unusual. But Beijing is in a relentless quest for oil, coal, iron ore and copper for its factories, soybean and poultry to feed its 1.3 billion people, lumber for housing, and fish meal for its livestock. President Hu Jintao's government, which two years ago pledged $100 billion in investments for several South American countries, said it also wants to bankroll road, port and railroad developments that would help bring exports more quickly to China.

Veering toward China, though, is far from easy for entrepreneurs and students from a region that has long been intertwined with the giant to the north. The United States remains the biggest investor in Latin America, its trade with the region eight times that of China's. English prevails as a second language.

Mandarin, on the other hand, is considered far harder to learn, with dialects and a tenor significantly different from the phonetic cadences of Spanish and Portuguese. Yet the Chinese language is making gains, as is the revolutionary idea of looking west across the Pacific for business opportunities.

So, interesting that people in Latin America are striving to learn a language as difficult as Mandarin Chinese. Do note that they are still learning English as well. Note the example of the executive at the article's opening who is one of the many learning Chinese. She already speaks German and English. And yet in this country, any suggestion that anyone may be bilingual is met with suspicion and/or resistance. So, yet another reason to consider studying foreign languages. It may help you open new business opportunities.

A hat tip to Yale Global Online.

Update note (11/29/06): The Annoyed Librarian gives her take on the Tennessee issue in her post "Revenge of the Rubes." It lingered in a clippings folder for a while, but I finally managed to make a note of it here.


terrymhp said...

Dear Ms. (Mr.?) Rivera,
I am one of the American English speakers who would prefer that the public libraries use their recreational reading funds to purchase English language books that my family and I can use. The official language of my state, California, is English, but Spanish speakers do not appear to respect that. As for learning foreign languages, I happen to study French, not Spanish. However, my local library has no signs or sections devoted to French, nor do I expect it to. Since Spanish speakers in this country either chose to move to an English-speaking country, or already speak English, it seems logical to devote limited library funds to English language books.


Theresa Peters
Vista, CA

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Dear Terry: No one has said that libraries should stop buying materials in English. And no one has said that you may not use materials in Spanish (if your lack of knowledge is an impediment, that is a separate issue). Whether we like it or not, the demographic reality is that there is a significant population who reads and uses Spanish materials. They live in your communities, and contrary to popular belief, many of them are legal citizens, and guess what? They vote as well just like you do. At the end of the day, what exactly is the threat of a few items in Spanish? Is it because it is not the foreign language of your choice that you have an issue? What about people who may actually wish to study the Spanish language in order to learn another language? You know, it is not all about those "bad immigrants." Many people in this country study foreign languages, including Spanish. Would you deprive them of the materials they might find useful to continue their own educations and edification?

Additionally, most of those Spanish readers (at least the ones recently arrived in the country) often come to the library looking for bilingual materials to help them learn English. Would you deprive them of those materials as well?

Thank you for stopping by.

P.S. It is "Mr." ;)