Monday, February 2, 2015

A bilingual country?

This afternoon I had an unexpected need to communicate with someone I didn't know over the course of an hour or more, resulting from a small story involving a car and a bicycle (details I think will not be furnished on request, sorry).  The point is that he spoke no English and I speak no Spanish, apart from a few words.  (French, which I do speak to an extent (emphasis on the last three words), is useless where I live.)  Everything ultimately worked out, partly because enough people around here speak both English and Spanish.  It just underscores that parts of the U.S. seem to have become virtually bilingual, leaving those who are not at something of a (potential, at least) disadvantage in daily life.

A CNN piece from Sept. 2013 quotes an expert at the Pew Research Center as follows:
"On the one hand, [in the U.S.] the number of Spanish speakers is projected to grow to about 40 million by 2020 (from 37 million in 2011). This reflects Hispanic population growth and a large number of non-Hispanics who will also speak Spanish," said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center. "But, even though the [total] number of Spanish speakers is projected to grow, among Hispanics, the share that speak Spanish is projected to fall from about 75% now to 66% in 2020," Lopez said.
These figures don't capture variations from one geographical area to another, of course, nor is there a specific projection here for bilingualism.  It's interesting to learn that the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. who speak Spanish will drop to roughly two-thirds in 2020, even as the Hispanic population grows, but knowing this certainly does not matter when an English-speaker and a Spanish-speaker have to communicate and can't.  Luckily my experience today did not involve anything serious.  I don't like to think about what would happen if the inability to cross the language barrier implicated a matter of life and death.

Note: edited slightly after initial posting.    

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