Learn Spanish? Si, se puede!
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images Barack Obama’s urging this week that Americans “learn a foreign language” — he suggested Spanish — sparked some healthy back-and-forth on Passport and beyond. The key question: Putting “learning for learning’s sake” aside, can Americans really maximize their utility by learning another language? My sources and instincts say sí. According to a ...
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama’s urging this week that Americans “learn a foreign language” — he suggested Spanish — sparked some healthy back-and-forth on Passport and beyond. The key question: Putting “learning for learning’s sake” aside, can Americans really maximize their utility by learning another language? My sources and instincts say sí.
According to a 2006 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, around 30 million people in the United States call Spanish their primary language — and about half of them don’t speak English “well” (keep in mind, too, that these numbers only represent legal citizens). That’s not a small slice of the U.S. population of 304 million. What that number represents are roughly 15 million people who work for companies and contractors, and who buy groceries, cars, and clothing. That’s 15 million people who need healthcare, legal advice, and schooling. It’s 15 million people who seek Spanish-language entertainment on the radio and television, and in magazines and newspapers.
So here’s the translation: Those needs increase the demand for doctors, teachers, lawyers, writers, radio hosts, construction foremen, salesmen and many other types of blue and white collar U.S. workers who can speak Spanish. This need has already begun impacting hiring practices. Bilingual job fairs and Web sites are increasingly popular, and nearly half of corporate managers are starting to target Spanish-speaking job candidates. More schools have begun targeting Spanish-speakers too, even shelling out bigger bucks for bilingual teachers.
In fact, Spanish may even someday be an unofficial prerequisite for the biggest job of all: the U.S. presidency. President Bush, hardly a globe-hopping polyglot, speaks the language (sometimes to a fault), and Obama knows “a little Spanish” in addition to his Indonesian. But with America’s Spanish-speaking population growing by at least a million people each year, it won’t be long before un poquito doesn’t cut it anymore.
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