My Turn

Opinion: Bilingual begins at home

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Speaking as someone who loves language and the deep Hispanic-Indio roots of this area, I found it very gratifying to see three articles in last week’s paper regarding bilingual programs in our schools. Congratulations to our local schools for being so forward thinking, making this effort to preserve local culture and bring their students into the multicultural world of this century.

However, it saddens me that our local distinct Spanish dialect is losing ground rapidly and has lost ground over the last two generations. It is predicted it will be extinct in one more generation. I have found that young Hispanic people under 35, more or less, are not be able to speak their language, neither “manito” nor standard Spanish. Furthermore, many of their parents are not fluent. 

The Hispanic traditions, which include the dialect, go back at least 400 years…..what a shame that the language is dying after having been a vibrant part of the locality for so many centuries. I know there was the dark period in education where Spanish was prohibited from being spoken in schools. This was a shameful period for educators and, ideally, should never have happened. Still, we need not let the past overshadow the present.

It is a fact that a child has a window of opportunity for learning language. This window of maximum receptiveness goes from birth to approximately 12 years of age. After the age of 12, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn to speak a second language with any sort of fluency. It seems that to turn back the trend and save this precious heredity, we need the grandparents and great-grandparents to step up to the plate and speak to the young ones in Spanish at home from birth onward. This time-honored way of transmitting culture (called “the mother’s knee” by linguists) does no harm and does not conflict with learning English simultaneously at a later date. However, waiting until late childhood or adulthood loses the precious window of opportunity for language learning that nature has provided us.

There is not much time left to save the northern New Mexico-Colorado dialect. Speak it, be proud of what it stands for. As with the acequias, “Our Past Can Be Our Future.”

Hanlon is a retired teacher (reading, applied linguistics, English).

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