Opinion: Why is Bilingualism Seen as Un-American?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about deciding to send my bilingual daughter to our neighborhood school instead of to a dual language immersion school where she would have been taught in both English and Spanish.

I was perplexed when it received what I felt were unwarranted and misdirected reactions: Many commented on Facebook and on the post that my daughter should learn English first, that this is America and English is spoken here, and even something to the effect that if I didn’t like it, I should go back to Mexico. (Especially since I didn’t come from Mexico in the first place, so why should I go back there?)

I grew up bilingual (believe it or not, I went to a dual language immersion school back in Peru) and am a language lover, so I’ve never really understood America’s monolingual preference. Especially when there is so much research backing the fact that bilingualism is good for us: Not only are there the obvious job market advantages, but it’s been linked to everything from better multi-tasking to delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Studies have proven that dual-language education, too, is effective for all kids and they score ahead of the curve over monolingual children. (If you want to learn more about this, there's an absolutely great documentary called “Speaking in Tongues” which will blow you away with the benefits.)

Why would we deny our kids that? Why is it that so many Americans seem to have such an aversion to speaking more than one language? Why is it so hard to see that speaking a second language doesn’t give English more or less importance? Why is it that being bilingual is seen as un-American?

I’ve gotten all kinds of answers to these questions, but none that would ever make me believe that speaking more than one language is somehow disadvantageous. On the contrary, I am such a firm believer in the benefits of multilingualism that my bilingual daughter is already learning her third language, French. And I hope that this is only the beginning.

Roxana A. Soto is an Emmy-winning Peruvian-born, Denver-based bilingual journalist and the co-founder of SpanglishBaby.com.