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¿Habla Español, Señor Presidente?

For those following the recent series of presidential debates, you’re likely aware that there’s been a conversation happening over whether presidential candidates should answer questions or do interviews in Spanish. Two GOP presidential candidates, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, are bilingual and regularly speak Spanish on the campaign trail. And they’ve taken some flak for it.

The topic surfaced again in this week’s presidential debate hosted by CNN. When asked about the propriety of a presidential candidate speaking in Spanish, here’s how Senator Marco Rubio addressed the question:

“My grandfather instilled in me the belief that I was blessed to live in the one society in all of human history where even I, the son of a bartender and a maid, could aspire to have anything, and be anything that I was willing to work hard to achieve,” Rubio said. “But he taught me that in Spanish, because it was the language he was most comfortable in. . . . And so, I do give interviews in Spanish, and here’s why: because I believe that free enterprise and limited government is the best way to help people who are trying to achieve upward mobility. And if they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me. Not from a translator at Univision.”

The reality is that the United States is now home to the world’s second largest Spanish speaking population. Within the lifetime of the children in add.a.lingua’s Spanish immersion programs, the United States is poised to surpass Mexico to become the world’s largest Spanish-speaking nation. In other words, the national conversation about bilingualism is going to continue, and it will almost certainly shape the expectations we have for those elected to represent us. Political leaders of all types will need to reimagine how they communicate in an increasingly multilingual United States.

“Immersion students often achieve higher academic proficiency than their monolingual peers while also becoming more culturally intuitive.”

As Senator Rubio acknowledged in his response, English remains our unifying language and it’s incredibly important for Americans to learn to speak it. This is why add.a.lingua stresses that one of the hallmarks of a quality dual language immersion program is the idea of additive bilingualism and biliteracy.

Students do not acquire Spanish or Mandarin Chinese at the expense of English. Rather, the process of learning academic content through the second language strengthens their ability to think and communicate in general. Drawing from linguistic awareness of both languages, immersion students often achieve higher academic proficiency than their monolingual peers while also becoming more culturally intuitive. As the generation of primary school immersion students competently conversing and learning in two or more languages demonstrates, there is absolutely no reason to frame this discussion as “either/or.”

In fact, we’d argue the opposite. Perhaps “both/and” would allow us to understand and contribute even more. Left, Right, or somewhere in between, we wonder, how is it possible that communicating in the language of our international neighbors or the family next door, would take away from political discourse?

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