The language barrier

Nothing like a little trip outside the states to let you know how poor Americans are when it comes to having a second language. Basically for us it's English or nothing.

For many of the visitors here to the Netherlands Antilles from foreign lands, there is always English as their backup language. For us there's nothing.

Residents of the ABC islands get Dutch and Spanish in school but most also know English and that wonderfully mixed language called paliamentu — a mix of Dutch, the original island language, other foreign tongues and pieces from the African slaves who were brought here.

Not having a second language like Spanish to fall back on hadn't been a real problem — that is until we hit a large grocery story on Bonaire where we are snorkeling. Everything was in Dutch with the exception of the U.S. products that have found their way south — such as Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Kleenex and some items that are named the same across language lines (and don't ask about the cost). Still, it's disconcerting to look at the aisle item signs and recognize almost nothing but soup — but you can't buy Campbell's.

But as we ponder the grocery lines, the question becomes what other language we should be learning and teaching our youngsters as they come up.

For most of the world, picking a second language to learn is a no-brainer — English it is. Air traffic control around the world uses English and English is common enough outside that heady realm.

But if your natural language is English in an English speaking country, what do you learn next? German, French, Dutch, Spanish?

If you're in America, the default second language should be Spanish. With a rising Hispanic and Latino population it just makes sense to have Spanish be the second language. Like it or not, the U.S. is going brown -- Texas is now a majority minority state, meaning minorities outnumber white residents of the state. Others, such as California, are multicultural in many other ways.

Boyne City schools seem to be taking all of this to heart, providing Spanish instruction from the elementary school on up. A bold move in white Northern Michigan but a practical one nonetheless. The best time to learn a second language is when you're young so the kids in the elementary school there will be getting a leg up on students that take Spanish in high school where it is much harder to learn.

I took French in high school and a year of German in college and I can tell you that I retain absolutely none of it beyond a few phrases. And while French for years was the language of diplomacy, that ship has long sailed. English it is.

With our changing national demographics, it's time to think about mandatory second language training for our students. If almost every school child around the world learns his or her native language and a second one, isn't it time we decided to do the same thing here?

Put me down in the camp that says our students should learn Spanish along with their English in school. Being bilingual should be a mark of pride for our students when they graduate.

However you vote, vote

Hang in there folks, as you read this there is a week left to go in this election and I know you have to be weary of the leadup to voting.

It seems this election has dragged on forever (for Mitt Romney it certainly has as he's been running for president literally for years).

The election seems especially long in some ways because the Republican primary battles and debates went on forever. No one can say that the candidates on the Republican side were not vetted to the nth degree.

And the ads — those paragons of twisted quotes and downright fallacies — have been running nearly as long, so be prepared this last week to see more ads than you want to. The networks smile, we weep. Stop this madness.

As Americans, we are blessed with the right to cast our ballots for whomever we choose and it's a right we should fully embrace by making sure we cast our ballot.

Sure it's sometimes inconvenient but so what? It's our duty to elect those we choose to lead us for the coming two and four years.

We happened to be in Curacao during their election and everything shut down on election day from noon to 4 p.m. so people could go to the polls. Seems a worthy effort to get out the vote.

But here you have to do it on your own, make the time, show up, study the candidates and issues and then cast your ballot.

I wouldn't presume to tell you how to vote on election day. But I will tell you if you don't vote and the election doesn't come out the way you'd have liked to see it you have no right to complain about the outcome.

So next Tuesday, Nov. 6, use your right to vote to cast your ballot.



Kendall P. Stanley is retired editor of the Petoskey News-Review. He can be contacted at kendallstanley@charter.net.
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