The power of language

Recently I received an email that started with the sentence, "I don't want to be part of the problem so I am passing this on." The 'problem' it was referring to was the spanish language in the United States of America and how its use was on the rise. A specific point it brought up was 'the Pledge of Allegiance'[ to the USA and its flag ] was said in spanish after a bilingual student had finished saying it in english. At the end of a diatribe about how it was never translated into polish, german or any other language of other immigrants( I'd like some indisputable proof on that one ), it ended with the trite, short sighted expression 'if you aren't part of the solution you are part of the problem - so pass this on'. Today's article is about why I chose to, in the eyes of the original email sender, be part of the problem and how I feel we are missing an opportunity. ...

"This is America, we speak english here!" Well actually, many languages are spoken in America, or rather the Americas( North and South ). You can of course change the America to United States of America but statements like the former show a certain lack of vision. By holding on to who we know ourselves to be so much that we don't let others grow, we do everyone a disservice. I will explain a couple ways this is done below.

First, someone said the Pledge of Allegiance in spanish( after saying it in english ). Let's go over the Pledge, part by part"

"I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands." Those words, said in any language, convey a very powerful message. Someone is pledging loyalty and devotion to the Republic and flag of the USA. The aren't promising to speak english.

"One Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." This part describes, in my mind, the reason someone would pledge allegiance to the USA. It is one nation that can not be divided, but not because there is a totalitarian dictator holding it together through martial law. The USA also offers freedom from control and fairness for everyone( there is no exemption in the sentence ).

As a proud citizen of the United States of America, I think this pledge should be said and honored in as many languages as possible. When someone says this pledge in their native tongue, it means quite a bit more than saying it in their second( or third, etc ) language.

Does this mean I think they shouldn't learn english? No, I just think it would be good if we learned spanish or, more to the point, became a multilingual culture. There are precendents set for this. Our neighbors to the north, in Canada, are multi-lingual. The have english and french all over the place, especially in Quebec. When I visited Europe I noticed that many of the people I came in contact with spoke many languages. Usually at least 3 but often times more. But why compare our country to others in ways we come up short( from one point of view )? A good reason to create a multilingual culture is the effect on our ability to think.
Research has shown some interesting things about thinking in more than one language. Different languages reflect another view on something, usually based on a languages history and culture. Research has also shown that foreign language education in elementary school does not hinder a childs ability to learn other important lessons. So if it is good for our minds and doesn't hinder other learning let's do it. I'm working on learning languages myself and will pass on some resources in future postings. So, while I am not part of the solution the email writer was referring to I choose to be part of a solution that helps us all grow into the future.

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