Many U.S. citizens are wrongly concerned that Latino immigrants will force America to speak Spanish, possibly even creating a bilingual country. According to an academic study published on Wednesday, these fears are entirely unfounded.
A report in the Population and Development Review found that, far from threatening the dominance of English, most Latin American immigrants to the United States lose their ability to speak Spanish over the course of a few generations. By the third generation, most descendants of immigrants are "linguistically dead" in their mother tongue. This applies statistically to nearly all immigrant categories, not just Hispanic.
The study by sociologists Frank Bean and Ruben Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, and Douglas Massey from Princeton, drew on two surveys investigating adaptation by immigrant communities in California and south Florida. "Based on an analysis of language loss over the generations, the study concludes that English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant language in America, nor is it under threat today," the researchers said.
"Although the generational life expectancy of Spanish is greater among Mexicans in Southern California than other groups, its demise is all but assured by the third generation," it added.
Third-generation immigrants are American-born with American-born parents, but with three or four foreign-born grandparents.
The study, which also included some data from immigrant groups from Asian countries, weighs into a polarizing debate in the United States on the desirability, or otherwise, of linguistic assimilation for immigrant minorities. Differences flared earlier this year when a group of Latino and Caribbean artists recorded a version of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, prompting condemnation from some public figures including President George W. Bush.
"The national anthem ought to be sung in English," Bush said of the version, dubbed "Nuestro Himno" by the artists. "And I think people who want to be citizens of this country ought to learn it in English." It should be noted that, previously, Bush himself has been recorded singing the National anthem in Spanish during political campaign stops targeting potential Hispanic voters.
Immigrants and visitors to the U.S. should consider the fact that there is a strong need for bilingual employees in a large variety of jobs. Persons with excellent fluency in English in addition to one or two native languages have vastly expanded work opportunities.
Not only translators, but phone service help, sales positions, proof-reading of books and medical instructions for publication, and loan-finance officers are a sampling of highly skilled positions currently going unfilled that require many languages.Related:
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• US schools desperate to fill foreign student quotas