A Spanish-speaking Serb-Croatian-American from Denver has received a well-deserved national honor.
North High School teacher Dave Mirich is the 1994 National Bilingual Teacher of the Year. As a result, he was asked to give the keynote address at the Colorado Hispanic Youth Leadership Awards this Saturday. He graciously accepted in order to speak on a topic he knows and loves: bilingual education. From what I know of him, I suspect he’ll speak in a much saner tone than most.
Somewhere along the line, the benefit of speaking two languages became lost in the right-wing fear that a separatist America will arise if the bilingual plague continues to grow. And it became absolutely buried when the left wing reacted with overly piteous concern for the victims of monolinguistic oppression. And so it goes.
Casting both extremes aside, is there any doubt that the ability to speak in another language has benefit? Deals can be closed quicker, dates can be made easier and wars can be averted if the right phrase in the right language is uttered at the right time.
I learned to say ”I had no idea she was your wife” in German, Danish, French and Italian while on tour of duty in Europe. It was required military training for peacetime survival. Communicating one’s remorse or an apology is just as important, in some cases.
Isn’t that really what bilingualism is meant to achieve?
Apparently, some loud voices don’t see it. They see more sinister motives. Former Gov. Dick Lamm, for example. He’s a very outspoken individual and I don’t disagree with everything he says, but I found one of his alarmist outbursts to be especially ludicrous. In his advocacy of English Only thought and his opposition to bilingual education, Lamm warned of a separatism in America of the same nature that Canada suffers with Quebec. Last I saw, Canadian companies owned a good chunk of downtown Denver real estate. The country can’t be suffering too much.
We also have an ex-legislator named Barbara Phillips who seemed to acknowledge Lamm’s warnings and spearheaded the English Only referendum that was passed by Colorado voters in 1990. The separatist theme was hammered during the campaign, along with the loss of national identity flatulence. Fear, after all, is still a great tool for raising voter turnout.
Despite the victory, English Only didn’t eliminate bilingual programs. Official state documents are still written in and official business is still conducted in Spanish, and other languages, as needed. Key phrase, that – as needed.
Thoughts and talk of a separatist Hispanic nation arising from bilingual education and programs are nothing more than bigoted, conspiratorial nonsense.
Now, confining ourselves for the moment to Spanish, let us look at the flip side of the bilingual issue. Anyone using bilingualism as a crutch for failing to succeed deserves every bit of scorn that comes along. If the opportunity exists to be as proficient in English as Spanish, it should be grabbed with vigor. For newly arrived immigrants and their children, it is indeed an opportunity to gain a step up in life.
For most others – third and fourth generations Latinos – the argument for bilingual education falls short, because the Spanish spoken by these folks is by and large far removed from anything spoken in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Peru or any other nation that has kept it as the national language. In these cases, learning English via bilingual education would result in a bilingualism confined to the immediate county at best. Hardly a plus in the international market. Better to learn English cold turkey than to continue with a bilingual fraud.
Dave Mirich teaches his kids the beauty of two languages and the benefits that come with knowing them. He instills in them that the concept of opportunity, not the crutch of inferiority, is the heart of bilingualism. I will add that to be truly bilingual, both languages should be mastered and respected. Good communication between people and nations demands it.
That’s the way it ought to be, anyway.