The time has come to rethink how we view the Spanish language. Spanish is a not a foreign language anymore; it’s a domestic language with deeply planted roots.
Allow me to get a little personal. I live in New Jersey—about two miles from Manhattan—in a very affluent Latino neighborhood. Running errands often tosses me into the throngs of Spanish conversation. I chat with the local Mexican grocer who stocks the shelves, “¿Por qué las manzanas están podridas? Mi esposa me va a matar.” I order coffee from my favorite Cuban restaurant, “Dos cafés grandes con leche, por favor.” I buy mouse traps from the Peruvian hardware store owner, “¿Cuánto cuesta una trampa para matar los malditos ratoncitos?”
Life is easier negotiating these remedial tasks in Spanish.
There are currently 57 million Hispanics in the U.S., and that number, according to Census.org, is projected to climb to 132.8 million by the year 2050—that’s greater than the population of Mexico today.
I realized the extent of change while riding the NYC subway a few years ago and being caught off guard when I heard the overhead speakers blasting updates in Spanish. Around the same time I was staying a night in Queens. Searching for lodging felt more like a walk in the streets of San Juan than the Big Apple. Every diner I passed buzzed with telenovelas and permeated with sobremesa (after dinner conversation). Truth be told, I never would have found my hotel without speaking Castellano.
Other parts of the country have also become linguistically diverse. Miami, an official bilingual city, has metamorphosed into a "miniature Cuba." California and its surrounding states (formerly Mexico) are now heavily populated with residents who can say the names of cities using the original pronunciation.
Spanish might be more than just a highly recommended language to speak in the 21st Century, it could be absolutely necessary. If post-millennials (born between 1995-2010) wish to have a successful career and maintain a competitive edge in the diverse global market, they will be wise to master this skill. This goes beyond reading and writing, but actually speaking and using the language in a very communicative way.
Certain careers require more bilingualism than others. Let’s consider blue collar work like construction, farming, transportation, service, installation and repair. The U.S. economy would collapse without immigrant workers backboning these fields.
White collar workers are expected to speak more Spanish now, too, and not just have it as an acute skill listed on a CV. The growing needs of the Hispanic community require more civil service workers who can communicate with this non-English speaking demographic.
Engineering and fields of computer science are booming. Latin America is producing an army of engineers and computer scientists who rival those of India, and even the United States. The redirection of outsourcing away from India likely stems from the awkward time difference that complicates customer service and inter-company communication. Latin America does not have this problem. Their working hours parallel the U.S. and they do as good a job as their Indian counterparts, and as such, many companies looks south of the border for cheaper labor.
Education is essential, but there are issues. Colleges are defunding, and even closing, language programs. Grade schools are not embracing the benefits of learning a second at a young age. Languages are taught in schools so students pass state exams, forcing teachers to focus their efforts on ridiculous Common Core standards rather than teaching valuable, real communication. With less emphasis on languages, Generation-Z will be grossly under prepared for the world to come.
The post-millennials who don’t learn Spanish could fall by the wayside in terms of opportunity and success in their respective careers. Of course, some post-millennials will shine regardless of their ability to speak Spanish, but why not swing the odds in your favor?
People talk of Mandarin as the language of tomorrow, but Spanish is the language of today, and it isn't going anywhere.