Monday, December 10, 2012

Is it Un-American to Speak Another Language?

 What is so UN-American about
speaking two, four or six languages?

Years ago, I went to a language-learning workshop in San Francisco, California and the instructor shared a joke he heard while in Europe. He asked, what do you call a person who speaks several languages? We answered multilingual. He then asked, what do you call a person who speaks two languages? We answered, bilingual. Finally he asked, what do you call a person who speaks only one language? We answered, monolingual. He said no, an American!

Yes, I had a good laugh, but what is even more interesting is the number of children of immigrants from Latin America, Europe, and Africa that I've met personally whose parents did not permit their children to learn their native tongue because they wanted their children to be real Americans. What the hell have these people been smoking?

What is so UN-American about the ability to speak two, four, or six languages? I myself was born and raised in the USA to African-American parents. My father and I both served this country in foreign wars. Yet, I have been knocking myself out for years trying to master a second language, Spanish, and am also able to greet and meet in more than six other languages. Does this make me any less American? I don't think so!

One day, I went to a dry cleaners where the owner, an elderly woman of Mexican-American ancestry, told me that she didn't learn to speak Spanish until she was in her 40s. Her motive was to get reconnected with her original culture. Unfortunately, her parents didn't want her speaking Spanish in the home. They insisted on English-only so she can be a fully indoctrinated American. 

One of my fellow church members of Castillian Spanish ancestry asked me why I was learning Spanish. His tone of voice indicated to me that there is something wrong with the language. To date, I've traveled to nine Spanish-speaking countries being totally immersed in the language and still don't see any reason why Spanish has such a bad rap among so many native speakers here in the US.

I strongly believe that mastery of more than one language helps us to expands our consciousness, awareness, and compassion in many ways. Here are the Top 10 reasons of Learning a Foreign Language. 

Let's remember from our history books, Spanish was spoken in what is now known as the United States of America long before the United States of America was born. This precious language stuck with our nation through the centuries, which means Spanish is as American as cherry pie.


  1. Hello Mr Smith, my name is Byron, I am a professional basketball player currently in Venezuela I'm in (Arcarigua) the state of Portuguesa it's funny I came across your blog. I have been to throughout Mexico (2008) Ecuador 2006 to both Quito and Guayaquil and other cities throughout. I have read and skimmed through most of your blog and it is on point! Everything you have said about racism, classism, in Latin America is on point. So much to say so little time, but I would like to tell you to keep doing your GREAT work. I have traveled the world (20+ Countries) mainly due to my career in sports and probably get a little different experience from the standpoint of being a athlete in a foreign country but, I try to as much as possible to get out and mingle with the local people and blacks to experience the culture.

    I have traveled more throughout Africa recently, playing in Angola last year, but I was in South Africa, Rwanda and Morocco last year and Senegal in 2010 and I get some of the same response, people look at you as a foreigner first, ATM or a ticket to their dream, before Black even on the African Continent. I also want to travel more throughout Latin America, plus Central America where we are in large numbers. I speak a broad level of Spanish and a little of Portuguese but is important to learn these languages to immerse yourself in the rich culture. Sorry for being off topic with my reply, I just wanted to post on a recent post. Keep up the good work. Peace and good travels.

    1. Hi Byron,
      I wish I had met you last December. I was in Caracas and in the Region of Barlovento in Venezuela. Thanks for the shout out.


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