Spanish in the United States: Second Language or Foreign Language?

Given the pervasive use of the Spanish language in the United States, some would argue that Spanish should no longer be considered a foreign language. With roughly 40 million people in the United States speaking Spanish, the language has permeated American society and deserves greater respect. As a highly visible and daily aspect of many Americans’ lives, Spanish has evolved into the United States’ second language rather than a foreign language.

Although English predominates within the nation’s corporate boardrooms, the halls of government and the court system, both corporate America and the government increasingly recognize the role of Spanish in the U.S. Companies now woo potential customers with Spanish language advertising and social media campaigns, the court system offers Spanish language interpreters for proceedings, and an office of the U.S. government’s General Services Administration (GSA) works to ensure the proper use of Spanish by federal agencies.

Spanish speakers in North America even have their own organization known as the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española — ANLE (North American Academy of the Spanish Language) to define Spanish language standards. Recognized as the authority regarding Spanish language use in the United States, ANLE works in conjunction with Gobierno USA, the U.S. government’s Spanish language portal, to ensure the correct usage of Spanish in all official communications by government entities. According to a member of ANLE, the federal government translates more documents into Spanish than any other minority language, highlighting its importance.

Just as Spanish speakers in other countries have their own particular idioms, the mix of cultures and “flavors” of Spanish combined with a strong influence by English has produced idioms unique to U.S. Spanish. ANLE is currently working to compile a list of these idioms for inclusion in a dictionary that captures the words and phrases unique to the Spanish spoken within the United States.

ANLE looks to standardize the usage of U.S. Spanish, which will pay off later with translations that are more faithful to the nuances found in American Spanish. It’s also important to highlight that Spanglish, an informal mix of Spanish and English, does not represent or define proper use of the Spanish language in the United States, although U.S. Spanish speakers have had a difficult time shedding this image.

A professor at the University of California at Berkeley sums up the debate about Spanish as a  foreign language versus a second language, like so: “Despite the quotidian presence of Spanish in the state of California, the voice of Spanish speaking Californians is strikingly absent from the Spanish I curriculum at UC Berkeley. …perhaps the reconceptualization of Spanish as a second language must start with students such as mine who expressed that their goals for Spanish were neither touristic nor global-economical, but immediately practical– they want to be able to communicate with individuals with whom they share a home state but not a means of communication.”[1]

 

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