Where Are the High-paying Jobs for Spanish Speakers?

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By Nicholas Subtirelu, The Week

If you’ve ever taken a language class, you’ve probably heard the promise that learning other languages is good for your economic future. The Modern Language Association (MLA) claims that language learning is important because “knowledge of a second language serves students well in the interconnected world: a second language opens the door to job opportunities in the global economy.” That has the ring of truth to it. But it is most definitely not equally true for everyone and every language. Your dutiful memorization of Klingon phrases is not going to help you score that brass-ring job at a New York hedge fund.

But what about expertise in a major global language — particularly, the second most widely spoken language in the United States? Spanish is spoken by nearly 40 million people in the U.S., and it’s the first language of nearly 400 million people worldwide. Surely, Spanish-English bilingualism should open doors of opportunity in the U.S. and global economies.

Not necessarily, according to a recent study I performed using data from careerbuilder.com. The results are summarized below. As you can see, nearly 5 percent of low-wage job ads mention Spanish. That number drops to roughly 3 percent for mid-wage jobs, and less than 1 percent for high-wage jobs. The implication is clear: There are job opportunities where speaking Spanish is a definite plus, but they are more prevalent at the lower end of the income spectrum. Jobs advertising pay of less than $35,000 per year mention Spanish approximately 10 times more frequently than ads offering more than $95,000.

(The job market tends to treat bilingualism as an asset — but only for positions that are primarily focused on direct spoken contact with customers, particularly those customers who speak Spanish but not English. For example, the call center industry hires many Spanish-English bilinguals to make or answer calls, especially for large national corporations. Managers in these centers, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, consider Spanish-English bilingualism an asset. But they do not necessarily offer greater compensation for it. Instead, according to a recent study of the industry, call centers tend to view Spanish-English bilingualism as a resource freely available in the borderlands area that they choose to locate in, not a learned or learnable skill. Similar observations can be made of positions in healthcare, where bilinguialism is a boon for people handling much of the direct patient communication. That means receptionists, medical technologists, and physician assistants — but not necessarily doctors and hospital administrators.

Indeed, there is a general perception that management jobs and positions requiring professional credentials have little need for direct spoken communication with the Spanish-speaking public. This is reflected in the infrequent mention of Spanish in job advertisements for higher-paying jobs. When a need for Spanish does arise, managers and highly paid professionals seem willing to rely on bilingual colleagues in lower-paid, lower-status positions to act as interpreters. For example, an English-speaking registered nurse or physician may rely on a bilingual medical assistant to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients.

But this misses some of the advantages of bilingualism in the management ranks. Even if direct spoken contact with customers and clients is not the primary responsibilities of managerial or professional positions, bilingualism may be advantageous for other reasons. For example, if you’re a boss supervising employees who communicate with the public in Spanish, you’ll be a better and more effective manager if you understand what they’re saying.

Another common misperception involves the assumption that Spanish-English bilingualism is only valuable as a way of accommodating customers and clients who do not speak English. But there’s more to it than that. Pew has estimated that 95 percent of Latino adults believe that maintenance of Spanish by U.S. Latinos is important. For some Americans of Latino descent, maybe that just means speaking Spanish privately in the home and with family. However, successes like the Spanish language television network Univision suggest that this desire to maintain Spanish may well be much bigger, and that there’s profit to be found in media and other services in Spanish that are not strictly needed by bilinguals, but are nonetheless desired as a form of cultural or linguistic maintenance and promotion.

In the end, the MLA’s statement might best be approached less as a description of the value of Spanish-English bilingualism in the U.S. labor market, where it seems that the language work that bilinguals do is not highly valued, but more as a recognition of how the basic facts about linguistic diversity should compel us to think more highly of the skills that bilinguals bring to the workplace.

Does Spanish Threaten American English?

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American English is in no danger of disappearing any time soon according to linguist Betty Bimer. Though some people worry when they see Spanish showing up on billboards and pay phones, Bimer says not only is English firmly established in America, no language has ever held as strong a position in the world today.

What does it mean to say somebody is bilingual?

A bilingual person is someone who speaks two languages. A person who speaks more than two languages is called ‘multilingual’ (although the term ‘bilinguism’ can be used for both situations). Multilingualism isn’t unusual; in fact, it’s the norm for most of the world’s societies. It’s possible for a person to know and use three, four, or even more languages fluently.

How do people become bilingual?

People may become bilingual either by acquiring two languages at the same time in childhood or by learning a second language sometime after acquiring their first language.

Many bilingual people grow up speaking two languages. Often in America such people are the children of immigrants; these children grow up speaking their parents’ native language in their childhood home while speaking English at school. Many bilinguals, however, are not immigrants; it is not uncommon for people born in the U.S. to speak English at school or work and another language at home. Children can also become bilingual if their parents speak more than one language to them, or if some other significant person in their life (such as a grandparent or caretaker) speaks to them consistently in another language.

Sometimes a child will grow up in a household in which each parent speaks a different language; in that case, the child may learn to speak to each parent in that parent’s language. In short, a young child who is regularly exposed to two languages from an early age will most likely become a fluent native speaker of both languages. The exposure must involve interaction; a child growing up in an English-speaking household who is exposed to Spanish only through Spanish-language television won’t become a Spanish-English bilingual, but a child who is regularly spoken to in both English and Spanish will.

It is also possible to learn a second language sometime after early childhood, but the older you get, the harder it is to learn to speak a new language as well as a native speaker. Many linguists believe there is a ‘critical period’ (lasting roughly from birth until puberty) during which a child can easily acquire any language that he or she is regularly exposed to. Under this view, the structure of the brain changes at puberty, and after that it becomes harder to learn a new language. This means that it is much easier to learn a second language during childhood than as an adult.

In some countries, nearly everybody is bilingual or multilingual. In parts of India, for example, a small child usually knows several languages. In many European countries, children are encouraged to learn a second language – typically English. In fact, the U.S. is quite unusual among the countries of the world in that many of its citizens speak only English, and they are rarely encouraged to become fluent in any other language.

Is it harder for a child to acquire two languages at once?

There is no evidence to suggest that it’s any harder for a child to acquire two languages than it is for the child to acquire one language. As long as people are regularly speaking with the child in both languages, the child will acquire them both easily. A child doesn’t have to be exceptional or have any special language ability to become bilingual; as long as the child is exposed to two languages throughout early child- hood, he or she will acquire them both.

Some people worry that learning more than one language is bad for a child, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to knowing more than one language. First, many linguists feel that knowing a second language actually benefits a child’s cognitive development.

Second, if the child comes from a family that has recently immigrated to the U.S., the family may speak a language other than English at home and may still have strong ties to their ethnic roots. In this case, being able to speak the language of the family’s ethnic heritage may be important for the child’s sense of cultural identity. To be unable to speak the family’s language could make a child feel like an outsider within his or her own family; speaking the family’s language gives the child a sense of identity and belonging.

Third, in an increasingly global marketplace, it’s an advantage for anyone to know more than one language – regardless of whether one’s family is new to the U.S. And finally, for people of any age or profession, knowing a second language encourages cross-cultural awareness and understanding.

Does bilinguism in America threaten the English language?

English is in no danger of disappearing any time soon; it is firmly established both in America and in countries throughout the world. In fact, no language has ever held as strong a position in the world as English does today. Some people worry when they see Spanish showing up on billboards and pay phones, but in a neighborhood with a high Spanish- speaking population, it makes perfectly good sense for public information and instructions to be printed in both English and Spanish. This doesn’t mean that the English language is in danger.

The truth is that there will probably always be immigrants in the U.S., coming from a wide variety of countries, who cannot speak English but whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren will end up being native English speakers. The reason for this is, again, the fact that it is much easier for children to learn another language than it is for adults.

Adults who immigrate to the U.S., especially later in life, may never really become fluent in English. It’s not that they don’t want to speak English; it’s simply much more difficult for them to [earn it well. Their children, however, will be able to pick up English easily from their friends and the society around them. These second-generation immigrants, the children of the adult immigrants, are likely to be bilingual, speaking their parents’ language at home and English at school and in the English-speaking community. When they grow up and have children of their own, those children – the third generation – will most likely speak only English, both at home with their bilingual parents and in the English-speaking community. This three-generation pattern has been repeating itself for many years, through wave after wave of immigrants.

Many adults today who speak only English can remember grandparents and great-grandparents who spoke very little English, who instead spoke mostly Polish, Italian, German, or Swedish – the language of the country they grew up in. In sum, bilinguism isn’t a danger either to the English language or to the bilingual speakers them- selves. On the contrary, there are many advantages to bilinguism, both for the individual and for the society as a whole. English enjoys tremendous dominance in the U.S. and in the world. But if history is any indication, there will always be people in the U.S. who cannot speak English – and they will have grandchildren who do.

Reprinted courtesy: Linguistic Society of America

Your Editor Informs: This is the launch of a national campaign that aims to make Hispanic millennials

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This Is Our Binority

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About six-in-ten U.S. adult Hispanics (62%) speak English or are bilingual, according to an analysis of the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos. Hispanics in the United States break down into three groups when it comes to their use of language: 36% are bilingual, 25% mainly use English and 38% mainly use Spanish. Among those who speak English, 59% are bilingual.

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Latino adults who are the children of immigrant parents are most likely to be bilingual. Among this group, 50% are bilingual, according to our 2013 survey. As of 2012, Latinos with immigrant parents (defined as those born outside the U.S. or those born in Puerto Rico) made up roughly half (48%) of all U.S.-born Hispanics. By comparison, a third (35%) of Hispanic immigrants are bilingual, as are a quarter (23%) of those with U.S.-born parents.

Widespread bilinguism has the potential to affect future generations of Latinos, a population that is among the fastest growing in the nation. Our 2011 survey showed that Latino adults valued both the ability to speak English and to speak Spanish. Fully 87% said Latino immigrants need to learn English to succeed. At the same time, nearly all (95%) said it is important for future generations of U.S. Hispanics to speak Spanish.

Bilinguism is measured in our National Surveys of Latinos by asking Hispanic adults to self-assess their language abilities. Respondents rated their ability to carry on a conversation in Spanish and how well they can read a book or newspaper written in Spanish. The same questions are posed about their English-speaking ability. Bilinguism is linked to age. Some 42% of Hispanics ages 18 to 29 are bilingual. That share falls to about a third among Hispanics ages 30 to 49 and ages 50 to 64, but rises again, to 40%, among those ages 65 and older.

Due in part to bilinguism, in 2013 Spanish was the most spoken non-English language in the U.S., used by 35.8 million Hispanics in the U.S. plus an additional 2.6 million non-Hispanics. Overall, three-in-four Hispanics (73%) ages 5 and older speak Spanish in their homes, when including those who are bilingual.

Given the expected demographic changes, what is the future of language use among Hispanics in the United States? According to Census Bureau projections, the share of Hispanics who speak only English at home will rise from 26% in 2013 to 34% in 2020. Over this time period, the share who speak Spanish at home will decrease from 73% to 66%.

And as a sign of the times, Spanglish, an informal hybrid of both languages, is widely used among Hispanics ages 16 to 25. Among these young Hispanics, 70% report using Spanglish, according to an analysis we did in 2009.

Your Editor Invites You to act like a Binority. Does it feel better than being a Minority? And are you

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SiriusXM to Launch New, Bilingual Comedy Channel: Qué Funny!

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  • 24/7 online channel will be first to exclusively showcase the best Latino comedians
  • Comedians featured to include George Lopez, John Leguizamo, Cristela Alonzo, Pablo Francisco, and many more  

SiriusXM it will launch Qué Funny!, a new 24/7 bilingual channel showcasing Latino comedians, on August 4.

SiriusXM listeners can expect to hear both up-and-coming and established Latino comedians including Gabriel Iglesias, Carlos Sanchez, Fausto Mata, George Lopez, Steve Trevino, Alexander Ospina, Cristela Alonzo, Cheech and Chong, Joey Medina, Monique Marvez, Pablo Francisco, Latino comedy troupe Room 28, and many more.

Expertly curated, SiriusXM ‘Qué Funny!’ will premiere online on Thursday, August 4, 2016 at 5:00 pm ET on SiriusXM channel 769.   The channel launches with a weekend long takeover marathon of comedy starring Jeff Garcia, Carlos Mencia, and Cristela Alonzo to name a few.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of SiriusXM Qué Funny! and add the new channel to our extensive comedy offering” said Jack Vaughn, Senior Vice President, Comedy Programming, SiriusXM.  “Que Funny! will showcase some of the most popular stand-up Latino comics working today and its programming will be a direct reflection of the diversity of Latino culture.”

Your Editor Opines: Ahhh, We are so  

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