¿Se Habla Español?
¿Se habla español? ¿En su vida, ve y oye español en las calles, en las tiendas, en la televisión y en su escuela? Es probable, porque la población de personas que hablan español en los Estados Unidos está creciendo rápidamente. Hoy, hay más de 50 millones personas que hablan español en este país. En menos de cuarenta años, la cantidad de personas que hablan español será más de 130 millones—esto será el 30% de la población de los Estados Unidos.
Did you understand anything above? Are you wondering why I started out this blog in Spanish? It is not because I am bilingual, although I have been studying Spanish in an effort to become somewhat proficient in the language. And it is not because this month (September 15 to October 15) is Hispanic Heritage month. To understand why I began in Spanish it is necessary to understand what I wrote.
Do you speak Spanish? In your everyday life, do you see and hear Spanish as you’re walking down the street, shopping in stores, watching television, or in your school? It is likely that you do because the population of Spanish speakers in the United States is growing rapidly. Today, there are more than 50 million Spanish-speakers in the U.S. and in just 40 years that number will increase to over 130 million. This will amount to 30% of the entire population.
Now do you understand why that first paragraph is in Spanish? Spanish is the second most common language in the United States. In fact, more people speak Spanish than speak Chinese, French, German, and Italian combined. In the not too distant future Spanish may well become the unofficial co-language of the United States. Given all of this, it seems useful that we all become a little more comfortable with Spanish—especially if we see ourselves as being sociologically mindful.
One of the most popular topics for sociologists to study is social change and one of the more significant social changes that affect any society is demographic change. Demographics are the statistical data that are gathered about a population. They often include variables such as race, gender, income, sexual orientation, age, religion, geographic location, and employment status. Sociologists use these statistics to make sense of social processes and even to predict social outcomes.
The social changes that are occurring as a result of the increasing Spanish-speaking population are something most of us experience on a daily basis. Many businesses now have signs and labels in English and Spanish. Transportation hubs such as airports, bus terminals, and train stations usually offer bilingual (or multi-lingual) instructions. And many governmental forms are now available not just in English and Spanish but in a myriad of other languages such as Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.
These social changes are all relatively recent and they are occurring quite rapidly. As I was growing up it was rare for me to see nutritional facts written in Spanish on a box of cereal, to find a Chinese-language television station as I channel surfed, or to see NBA basketball players wearing jerseys with their team names in Spanish (this I never saw until very recently).
One social institution where these changes are especially evident, particularly for Spanish-speaking individuals, is in the classroom. As any student or teacher will tell you the population of Spanish-speakers is increasing each year. In fact, the number of Spanish-speaking students is at an all time high and is projected to keep growing. The chart below, from a recent Pew Research Center report, illustrates the steady rise of Hispanic students in public schools and colleges.
Looking specifically at college enrollment we see that not only is the number of Hispanic students increasing but the number of white students is decreasing. The following chart is quite telling in terms of the trends in enrollment patterns in higher education.
As the Spanish-speaking population increases in the United States, not everyone is pleased to see and hear Spanish being spoken on the radio or television, being used on automated phone messages (“para continuar en Español, oprima número dos”), or being taught in schools alongside English. Some may even be turned off by the first paragraph of this blog. Such negative reactions are not surprising in a country where only 6.3% of the population is bilingual compared to 66% of the world's children that are raised as bi-lingual speakers according to the World Watch Institute).
Whatever one’s opinions of these demographic changes, the fact of the matter is that the population of the United States is not just getting bigger (and older) but it is also becoming more diverse. The likelihood that you will hear Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Dutch, Italian, Greek, or any of the other multitude of languages spoken in the United States will only continue to increase. As sociologists, we should not only be aware of these changes but we should recognize the effects they may have on social life, social institutions, and social policies.
Así, dígame: ¿Cómo afectan estos cambios su vida?