English as a hot topic
September 1, 2005
DILLON – It’s a hot topic: Why don’t some Spanish-speaking immigrants learn English?”You want this poor, uneducated immigrant to learn one of the most difficult languages to learn,” said Cesar Munoz, a Spanish teacher at TransNations and Colorado Mountain College. “Yes, the proper etiquette is if you’re going to that country you should learn that language, but, again, we’re dealing with reality.”The reality of little time and money paired with the effort of learning a new language make some Hispanics reluctant to study English. But now TransNations in Dillon is offering free classes. Plus it’s offering Spanish classes for English speakers to bridge the gap.”There’s 101 reasons to learn English,” said Donovan Cordova, who’s a volunteer English teacher. “If they go back to Mexico, they’ll get a better job if they’re bilingual, and same here.”So far, the free classes have been popular, especially with the younger generation, who sees friends who know English getting better opportunities, Cordova said.
So why don’t some learn English?But the older Hispanics prefers to communicate with English speakers through billingual children or grandchildren, Munoz said.”Why don’t Hispanics learn English when they move here?” Munoz said. “They don’t have to because economics and politics are catering to them.”For instance, politicians see Hispanics as another major vote and retailers see them as another market that needs to be tapped, so they’re starting to speak to them in their native tongue, he said. Such catering – along with the reality that many immigrants have a low-level education, work more than one job at minimum wage to make ends meet and are faced with learning one of the most complex languages – point to why many immigrants don’t learn English.”Sometimes I get a little sassy – especially with this attitude of ‘Why don’t they learn English?'” Munoz said. “We’re a rich and educated country – wouldn’t it be easier for us to learn an easy language like Spanish?”Still, Munoz said he strongly supports Hispanics learning English. In fact, he thinks everyone should be bilingual because it opens up a whole other world of literature, art and culture.
What about learning Spanish?Munoz teaches private and group Spanish lessons at TransNations. He has taught Spanish to police officers, doctors and nurses, and real estate agents. Knowing a little Spanish can show respect and go a long way to defuse a touchy situatio, he said. “It lets a person feel at ease,” he said.Within his classes, Munoz “sneaks in” information about Hispanic culture to help increase understanding, he said. He plans to start a club for people learning Spanish. For about two years, six to 18 people met weekly at Border’s book sotre, but that ended six months ago.
In September, he hopes to open a new Spanish-speaking club at TransNations. He will charge a membership so people literally buy in. He will bring drinks and food, show movies and introduce current news topics or books for discussion.”Ideally, I’d like to see a place for Americans to learn Spanish and Hispanics to learn about their own culture – especially these first-generation kids,” he said.He encourages people who are learning Spanish to practice on Spanish-speaking people.”It’s an exciting time to be in Summit County,” he said. “The culture is going to change. It’s exciting to see how much of the language, the diet, the recreation will change. “It’s just a shame that we have to be afraid of that,” he said. “A lot of it is because we have to change. But we won’t be coerced to learn a new language and adopt a new culture – a lot of it will just happen.”Vail, Colorado