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Bilingualism: The Controversy Gets More Controversial-er.

The controversy over bilingualism is always raging. The proponents, like me, boldly say being bilingual is an advantage. We don’t care what anyone says; that’s our story and we are stickin’ to it. The opponents of it say that bilingualism is naughty. And bad. And it hates puppies. They don’t care what the research says, they are stickin’ to it! That’s right folks, this is the basis of the controversy.


Bilingualism has some old roots. photo credit: lisby1

Here’s a fun fact, bilingualism isn’t exactly a new concept. Charles V, who I’m pretty sure lived quite a long time ago, made the following quote famous (this apparently isn’t the exact quote, but something to this general point. He probably said it in another language… I don’t see English on the list):

“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Now, first off, don’t feel bad if you don’t speak Spanish. You can still speak to God. He understands all languages. Anyway, Charles numero cinco was certainly multilingual. And wait, wasn’t he a king? If royalty from the 16th century was learning more than one language, you better bet I’m going to do the same.

Basically, opponents of bilingualism hate Spanish people. And horses. I think it’s safe to at least infer those two nuggets.

So what is bad about bilingualism? Who could possibly be against it?

The Nays: I don’t know that there are too many people actually against bilingualism itself. Certain groups and people think that bilingual education isn’t feasible, costs too much money, and the whole suffers due to a small part. And then you have people who are angry about a whole litany of other things, such as:

  • Immigration
  • Jobs
  • Welfare abuse
  • Undocumented immigrants committing crimes
  • Americans using the word ‘chones’ for underwear (I’m in this group)
  • many other important things…

Let’s be inclusive… like this sign. Just include everybody. Photo credit: Pat Guiney

As I discussed in learn a language, acquire a culture, meet yourself, language and culture are tied together. Any unique trait certain groups of people have will ultimately lead to them all being lumped together based on that trait. Think country-folk, skin color, accents, languages, wealth of parents, etc. We all have immediate stereotypes that come to mind when we see those ‘triggers.’ I think a lot of people hear someone speak Spanish and peg them as an illegal a la Sebastien de la Cruz. It has nothing to do with Spanish itself, it’s that it triggers some preconceived notion they have about people who speak Spanish in general; think illegal Mexican, cheap labor stealing our work, financial drain on our system, etc.

Bilingualism is largely misunderstood and foreign to the majority of people who aren’t bilingual. Especially in an American-centric America, people don’t like the idea that English isn’t going to be goal #1, #2, and #3. It’s “ok” to have another ethnicity, and speak another language, as long as it knows its place. This isn’t a knock on America, nor it’s inhabitants. American’s aren’t any worse than any other people, in fact I would argue that, as a whole, they may be slightly more accepting considering their history.

Bilingualism is here to stay, and it’s actually growing. Within the next 25 years or so, the descendents of Europeans will be a minority here in the old US of A. This isn’t a bad thing, nor necessarily a good thing. But it is.

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About Jeffrey Nelson

Jeffrey Nelson is a husband, father, author and bilingual living and working in the Midwestern United States. He lives with his Mexican wife and their son, Liam, who is currently being raised bilingual in English and Spanish.

2 comments… add one

  1. Olga @The EuropeanMama

    Jeffrey, this is an awesome post! When you look deeper, the bilingualism controversy is never about speaking two languages, it’s about fear of differences and misunderstaniding! Also, mostly the same people who rage against bilingualism suddenly become proponents when they find themselves in a different country and are faced with having to defense their culture. As for royalties, yes, in Europe, royalties were mostly bilingual because they came from different backgrounds. A more contemporary example is Queen Maxima of the Netherlands who speaks apparently speaks Spanish with her children. Multilingualism was normal among royalties, but also among “normal” Europeans, nationalism is actually an invention of the 19th Century! MY own country, Poland, used to be a safe place for all cultures and religions, and Jews who were thrown out of other countries found a safe haven there!A pity that Poland now is so intolerant! I am working hard on changing this, though! Thanks for this post, had tons of fun reading it! Also, bilingualism hates puppies? You just made my day.

    1. livingbilingual

      I’m glad you liked it! Very good points. One could write another post from your comment. :)

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