Dade Schoolchildren Turn English-Spanish Debate Upside Down

The English-Spanish debate is hardly new to Dade County, a center for trade with Latin America and home of immigrants from all over our hemisphere.

A common misperception is that Dade County’s majority Hispanic population is shunning English to speak only Spanish. That point of view is buttressed by the Dade County Commission’s repeal, in 1993, of a county law that had banned translation of county documents into Spanish and other languages.

English-only speakers fear that translating county documents into Spanish and other foreign languages will lead naturally to a demise of the English language and the “Balkanization” of our country.

As in all things, there are extremes on both sides of the language debate.

The majority of Hispanics in Dade County, though, are quite mainstream, interested not only in learning English but excelling at it.

If there is anything to fear, it is that, despite Dade County’s strong Spanish-language presence, the tongue of Cervantes, indeed, is becoming lost for a majority of Dade County’s immigrant children, who prefer to speak English.

Yes, English, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who is a student of this nation’s language history.

In fact, only two of every 100 children in Dade County are graduating from high school fully fluent in Spanish, according to a report released in June by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. That is happening even though Dade is the only county in the country that offers Spanish, beginning in second grade, to all students who want to learn it.

In 1993, a school-system survey of immigrants’ children also exposed the rapid assimilation that is occurring. Ninety-nine percent of immigrant children surveyed said they spoke English well. More than two-thirds of those children said they preferred to speak English rather than the language spoken at home, whether it was Spanish or Haitian Creole.

It’s not that most of Dade County’s Hispanic students don’t understand Spanish. Those children know “home Spanish.” What they are missing out on, though, is the type of intense knowledge of Spanish necessary to negotiate in the business world.

The flip side of all that, as explained in a recent report in The Miami Herald, is that bilingual Latin Americans who move to Dade County have an edge over supposedly bilingual Hispanic-Americans.

What that might mean to Florida’s ability to compete in global trade should concern every taxpayer in this state. Greater Miami, alone, is home to 260 Latin American companies that have opened regional offices there. They pay numerous federal, state and local taxes, just as other Florida businesses do.

The fear of bilingual education really has clouded the reality of America’s cultural obsession for monolingualism. Dade County’s children are proof once again that American culture and the English language are, in no way, threatened.

Most Spanish courses in Dade County are not truly “bilingual” courses that teach subjects, such as science or history, in both English and Spanish. Spanish is offered at most elementary schools in Dade County for only half an hour a day. Kids cannot be expected to be fluent in Spanish or any other foreign language – no matter how much they speak it at home – if they receive what amounts to 15 days of instruction a year.

Here’s another fact that should help dispel the myth that tax dollars for foreign-language classes discriminate against English-only speakers: More than 70 percent of non-Hispanic families in Dade County enroll their children in second-grade Spanish lessons.

Whether they come from Spanish-speaking households or English-only ones, though, Dade County’s children do better in English than in any other language. American history is repeating itself, si?

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