"English Only?"

Do you realize that there have always been multiple languages spoken in the United States and that English is not the official language of America? It is the official language of  more than thirty states and is used for some official federal government documents, but it is not an exclusively accepted language. [1] Depending on where you live you may hear Spanish, Chinese, German, French, or one of more than three hundred other languages spoken in the United States.[2]

Spanish, being the second most spoken language in the U.S.,  is the closest rival to English. Because of the rapid and continuous influx of immigrants, there are many communities that speak a limited amount of English. It is usually not because they don't want to learn English, but because they are not fully immersed in their new surrounding. If circumstances prevent widespread intermingling of cultures, it is natural for language to remain stagnant.

How can English speaking Americans help these new communities to assimilate and to become proficient in English? One way is to communicate in Spanish. As you attempt to speak with hispanohablantes you will also be helping them to learn English. Together you will be figuring out how to learn a new language. You may be the bridge that many need to cross in learning a new language.

You do not need to be proficient in Spanish  to communicate and to be that bridge. You can start by learning a few language basics such as cognates, question words, and phrases. A cognate is a word that is similar in two languages and has a similar meaning. You will recognize some  Spanish words that are identical, or nearly identical to English:  doctor, hospital, ambulancia, bus, vegetales,  inteligente, examen.  For optimal learning you also want to recognize these words when you hear them spoken. Spanish pronunciation is phonetically simple and easy to master. You can listen to a pronunciation dictionary online to learn how to say these words.

A second set of words to learn are the question words. You can learn these words by listening to songs like The Spanish Question Word Song on You TubeQuestion words to learn are:  "who?", "what?", "when?", "where?", "how?", and "how much?"               '                                                       

Putting words into phrases is the third group of basics that are most essential in your language learning. Some questions to use in conversation are:      

  • ¿Quién está? = Who's there?
  • ¿Qué es? = What is it ?    
  • ¿Dónde está? = Where is it?         
  • ¿Cómo está? =   How are you?          
  • ¿Cuándo es? = When is it?                  
  • ¿Cuánto es? = How much is it

With this quick guideline you are ready to try communicating. You don't need to be a language expert to start a conversation. Your neighbor will appreciate your effort and will be encouraged to interact with you using bits and pieces of his/her new language. Soon you may choose to press two for Spanish.