Found in translation: Conn College steps up
Thank you for the editorial “Speaking the Language of the Heart” (Dec. 28) and Karen Florin’s article (“Wanted in southeastern Connecticut and beyond: Spanish-speaking employees”) describing the value of speaking Spanish in our community. As a faculty member in the Hispanic Studies Department at Connecticut College, I frequently receive calls from community members asking for students to translate, teach Spanish, mentor, volunteer, tutor, and assist those providing social services in New London County. I am gratified that so many of our students provide this type of service not just occasionally but on an ongoing basis. They understand their commitment to these organizations is essential to the success of the programs offered.
From translating for immigrants to tutoring bilingual students, helping fill out forms, finding food pantries, interpreting for patients, translating for the military, and creating safe spaces in workshops in which to write and tell the immigrant story, they volunteer many hours weekly. Occasionally completed as service learning courses or internships for credit, more frequently these activities are volunteer driven. Their reward is found in the building of relationships, friendships and trust with the people they work with and serve, while preparing for their futures.
We have been addressing for years many of the points you highlight. Believing it is never too soon to educate for tomorrow, we offer courses that address Spanish in education, business, and social and environmental justice. We contribute to the staffing of local schools and businesses in addition to multiple Pathways and Centers at Connecticut College. Two courses we offered in the Fall of 2019, “Teaching and Learning Spanish” and “Spanish for the Professions,” educate with opportunities and incentives for the fields of law, medicine, social services and education.
Providing someone to speak Spanish in every sense of the term means cultural and linguistic fluency. Ultimately, a language translation app cannot fill that need. Frequently it is not just a term but the culturally-specific language of the rest of the communication that complicates understanding. We offer a variety of courses about Latinx communities in the U.S. and Latin American cultural differences to appreciate diversity. One of the most frequent complaints we hear from Spanish speakers is that they are often lumped together as one group that speaks the same language, eats the same food and thinks the same way.
Ultimately, the motivation for people to learn Spanish is supported by tangible and intangible incentives as explored in articles this past semester. “Making Languages our Business,” on the website of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, argues: “Nine out of 10 U.S. employers report a reliance on U.S.-based employees with language skills other than English, with one-third (32 percent) reporting a high dependency ...” The most in-demand foreign languages reported by U.S. employers were: 85 percent Spanish, 34 percent Chinese, 22 percent French.
A study by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, “The Future of Spanish in the United States,” summarizes important data: “Spanish demographics unequivocally reveal that the United States is home to the second largest number of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico … Spanish is used in 44 countries and is the official language in 21 of them.”
An article in Forbes magazine by Mayra Rodríguez Valladares points to the success of Hispanics in the
U.S. and recognizes their ability to contribute to the workforce: “Given the growth of Hispanics in the U.S. workforce, they represent significant market opportunities for every type of financial institution, including banks, insurance companies, asset managers, and fintech. … in five years, Hispanics will account for about 20 percent of the U.S. workforce and over 30 percent by 2050.”
Finally, a significant takeaway from your editorial reinforces the value of learning Spanish as a professional and a human skill. Tangibly, the benefits of bilingualism are starting to be understood as reported in a New York Times article, “Why Bilinguals are Smarter”: “Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” A helping hand and a shield against deteriorating brain function, who could argue with that combination of benefits? As a collaborative effort, we look forward to strengthening our existing alliances and forging new ones to support the goals of speaking Spanish in our community.
Providing someone to speak Spanish in every sense of the term means cultural and linguistic fluency.
Julia A. Kushigian is the Hanna Hafkesbrink Professor of Hispanic Studies at Connecticut College.