¿Hables Englisch? Sprechts du ingles? Hello?

By Krista Kafer Monday’s Rocky Mountain News reported that libraries around the nation, including those in Colorado, are stocking the shelves with Spanish books, magazines, and multimedia. The paper reported last month that the Denver Public Library system intends to make several branches officially bilingual complete with bilingual staff and books and services in Spanish. Me gusta el español. Es utíl. So what’s the problem?

Recently the Denver Post reported that Latino 3rd graders who took the Spanish version of 2005 Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) reading and writing tests outscored Latino students who took the English version. The majority of Spanish test takers speaks Spanish as a first language and is currently enrolled in bilingual classes. While reading and writing in Spanish are good skills, the long-term success of these students depends on whether they can transition to English. There is evidence that many bilingual programs fall short of this goal.

We have to ask ourselves if these kinds of policies are hindering or helping immigrants learn English, the language of commerce and civil society in America.

Learning a new language is tough and it seems to me that we should increase opportunities for immigrants and their children to learn English.

My grandparents, who grew up in German speaking households, were not allowed to speak German while at school. It seems a bit harsh to be sure until you consider the outcome. Grammy and Papa could speak and write fluently in English and German. Being surrounded by the English language -- at school, in the library, in front of the television, or at the park – builds fluency.

So in my case, ultimately, my grandparents’ mastery of English meant that I would have the opportunity to learn German in college -- as the first in my immediate family to attend. Eine kleine bisschen Deutsch at any rate.

To gain the American dream – a good job, a home or small business of one’s own, and a thriving family – one must know English. Tell someone to climb a ladder without the rungs. That’s what we do when we don’t give people the opportunity to learn English. That’s what we do when we hinder their progress.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink our language policies. Ja?