When 18 students in Taos recently earned their biliteracy seals in Spanish and English, they not only gained an official recognition of their skills in two languages, but they'll also now have a leg up on their peers when it comes to college and job opportunities.
As our story in this week's edition about those students (written in English and Spanish) notes, they had to show proficiency in reading, writing and speaking in both languages to earn the seal. That's no easy feat, as anyone who has attempted to learn another language knows.
Some of those students' parents are from the Taos Valley. Some are from elsewhere in the United States. Some are from Mexico. All obviously believed it was worth their child's time and effort to become skilled in more than one language.
Learning English is critical for people from any country who come to the United States - and Taos. It is the common language of most of the country. It is the language of commerce and the basis for our nation's founding documents. Learning English can go a long way in helping immigrants - documented or undocumented - fit more easily into the larger American society.
But in the Taos Valley, it is equally critical for English speakers to learn Spanish. It is part of the valley's culture, embedded in its governance and in the acequia tradition. Learning the particular Spanish of the valley, in many ways its own dialect, also helps preserve some of the cultural nuances so particular to the area - from dichos to jokes. And since the majority of Anglos are monolingual, learning Spanish would drive home just how difficult it is to learn another language, raising their empathy toward immigrants who are struggling to master English.
Indeed, until just a few decades ago, English was not the dominant language in the Taos area at all. More people were bilingual in Tiwa and Spanish than in English and Spanish.
Members of Taos Pueblo are working hard to preserve the Tiwa language among their youth. Those efforts to ensure their native language thrives are mirrored by other pueblos and tribes in the nation. The loss of language would mean the loss of the heart and soul of their cultures.
The ability to speak more than one language is increasingly useful in a high-tech and global world. In Europe, many people learn multiple languages. At least half the population of the European Union is bilingual. Only about 1 in 4 Americans speak a second language.
Learning more than one language also makes a person, well, smarter than those who are monolingual. Some research has found bilingual students have more nimble brains than monolingual students, in part because they are switching back and forth between languages. Other studies have found knowing more than one language can delay the onset of dementia.
Taos should be proud of all of its dual-language residents and support learners in both languages. Parents should urge their children to become exceptional in more than one language. Students should understand that the benefits of learning more than one language will be worth the effort.
To help out, The Taos News has one story each week in the newspaper that is published in both English and Spanish. This week, that story is about the students who received the biliteracy seal.
It's never too late to learn another language.