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The United States is Bilingual

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

“The United States is de facto bilingual, but politicians will not accept it”, stated Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz, 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, in an interview with Europa Press.

The trend in American culture is to be interested in knowing the reality of immigrants, but the opposite trend also exists, which “rejects everything Latino.”

What does it mean to be bilingual?

Many Latinos grow up speaking, reading and hearing two languages … in short, they grow up bilingual.

The number of Latinos born in the United States increases every year. They are the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of immigrants who are raised using “Spanish at home” and who use English more than anything in public. In other words, in conversations with parents, siblings or other relatives or friends they speak Spanish, and with friends, teachers and others in English.

Then surely they are bilingual, as are many others who continue to use the language they speak at home.

Being bilingual means more than just being able to speak two languages. In this definition, we need to include important elements that must also be associated with the word bilingual. Language and culture are connected to each other.

As we grow, we all learn the culture of our ancestors, by speaking their language. As Latinos, we learn Spanish as part of our Latino culture.

However, by being a United States resident, we also learn English to communicate with virtually anyone who is not a member of our family (except for those fellow Spanish-speakers).

Thus we live in two cultures and speak two languages as part of the environment in which we live and are in constant contact. We can see that being bilingual is part of our culture, and also is part of our own identity as Latinos raised in the United States. We merge the two cultures into one; and it could happen that at some point all residents share and support each other’s culture.

As Latinos, our identity is formed by the use of two languages in daily life.

This way as there are more and more Latinos in America, everyone may one day live under the same conditions, by incorporating Spanish into their daily lives, schools, television, government, etc.

It will be like seeing it from the other side of the glass …


How Many Latinos Are in the States and What Can Be Said About Them

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Dora the Explorer in the 2010 Census campaign

The tasks related to the 2010 Census in the United States began on April 1 with the questionnaires that were sent by mail. Efforts will continue until late July with door-to-door visits to those who do not return the questionnaire. The official census website contain information (also in Spanish) such as dates, activities, history and questions found in the census. It also states that: “Most of the country will receive only English materials. Households in areas with high concentrations of Spanish speaking residents may receive a bilingual questionnaire (English / Spanish).”

Dora the Explorer, Nickelodeon’s famous bilingual character, is the new spokesperson for the 2010 Census for Hispanic families. She will empathize the importance of counting children and not miss a “historic opportunity.”

This new assessment will show how much data has changed in the last ten years (from the previous 2000 Census). It will also collect information to analyze how many Latinos are living in the United States and their demographic … before the next census.

Numbers: There were 35.3 million Hispanics in the 2000 Census. The Latino population grew by 38% since 1990 while the total U.S. population only grew 9% over the same period.

  • Youth: 12.3 million are under 18 years,  or 17% of the total.
  • Older People: Hispanics make up 4.8% of the U.S. population older than 50 years.
Origin:  The U.S. shares approximately 2,000 miles of border with Mexico. More than half of Hispanics in the U.S. are of Mexican origin (60%). The remaining 30% is divided between 5% from Central America, 4% from South America , 10% from Puerto Rico, 7% from the Caribbean and 4% from Cuba.

Self-perception of young people: According to the National Survey of Latinos of the Pew Hispanic Center, more than half (52%) of the Latinos between 16 and 25 years identify themselves by their families’ country of origin… An additional 20% use the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino”. Only one in four – 24% – of the total describe themselves as “American.”

Where do Latinos live: The states with the largest number of Hispanics are California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and New Jersey. Moreover, more than half of Latinos within the U.S. live in the states of California and Texas. Also, Latinos are clustered in the towns and urban areas.

Politics: Latinos represent 5.5% of U.S. citizens registered to vote.

Marriage and divorce: 50% of Hispanics over age 15 are married. The divorce rate is lower among Hispanics than among whites.

Poverty: The average poverty level among Hispanics (30%) is similar to African Americans, but significantly higher than among non-Hispanic whites (8.5%).

Jobs: Proportionately, there are more Hispanic women than Hispanic men with administrative or professional jobs. There are 23% of women in managerial and professional occupations (less than all professional women: 36%). Among Hispanic men, 15% had managerial and professional occupations, compared with 31% of all professional. In 2000, 26% of Hispanic men 16 years or older worked in jobs related to production, transportation and material moving, compared with 20% of all men in the country.
  • Unemployment: The unemployment rate in the United States on March 2010 stood at 9.7%, but 12.6% among Hispanics in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Business owners: At a national level, Hispanics own about 1.2 million business. New Mexico has the highest proportion (22%), followed by Texas (16%), Florida (15%), California (13% ) and Arizona (9%).
Celebrities: Latinos are represented in all areas: athletes, singers, politicians… Here are some examples: Edgardo and Edgar Alfonso, baseball players, Cesar Chavez, labor leader, Emilio Estefan, music producer, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, singers; Sidney Gutierrez, astronaut, Oscar Hijuelos, Isabel Allende, writer; Tabaré Ramos, football player, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, Edward James Olmos, John Legizamo, actors, Gustavo Santaolalla, composer Alejandro Amenabar, director and producer, Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, Omar Minaya, general manager of the New York Mets.

Member of the catholic church: Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Jose Gomez, Mexican,  as the successor of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles when the current archbishop retires in February 2011. He will be the first Latino leader of the Catholic Church in Los Angeles.

Language: Over 75% of Hispanics speak a language other than English at home. Almost all (99%) speak Spanish at home. In 2000, 18% of the country’s population 5 years or older spoke a language other than English and most (60%) of them spoke Spanish at home.

Modalities of Spanish: There are four Hispanic dialect regions or areas: the Southwest, predominantly Mexican population; Florida, Cuban-majority, the Northeast, with a predominance of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans, although the latter is the most heterogeneous area, which represents all Hispanic origins. And finally, Chicago, which has groups of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. In short, there are four territories and three major dialects: Mexico (over 60%), U.S. (more than 12%) and Cuba (over 5%).

DECEMBER 2010: By law, the Census Bureau gives the President the population data for the apportionment of congressional districts.

MARCH 2011: By law, the Census Bureau finishes delivering data to the states for the legislative redistribution.


Latinos and the U.S. Census

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Hispanics are now the largest U.S. minority, comprising 15.1 percent of the total population. The Census Bureau estimates that approximatley 30.2 percent of the population (132.8 million people) will be Hispanic by the year 2050. That means that one third of the population will be Hispanic. How Does the Census Data Benefit Latinos? Census data are used in many ways that can benefit Latinos and improve they life and the life of their families. It directly affects how more than $400 billion per year in federal funding is distributed. The U.S Census Bureau has a toolkit for reaching latinos that is designed to help organizations that serve Latinos communicate the benefits of census participation. The toolkit overview mentions a number of benefits for the Latino community, which are listed below:

  • Planning for hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and the locations of other health services
  • Delivering goods and services to local areas
  • Attracting new businesses and jobs to the state and local areas
  • Designing facilities for people with disabilities, children or the elderly
  • Forecasting future transportation needs
  • Directing funds for schools and programs that help non English-speaking students
  • Creating maps to speed emergency services to households in need of assistance
  • Drawing school district boundaries
  • Directing funds for services for people in poverty
  • Directing services to children and adults with limited English language proficiency
  • Forecasting future housing needs for all segments of the population
  • Helping organizations that serve Latinos better plan, evaluate and improve programs

The Census Bureau’s goal is to count everyone, regardless of immigration status. “It’s very important that we have an accurate count of everyone so that we know how public services can be fairly distributed and what the needs of the country will be with regards to different populations.” says Janet Murguia, president and CEO, National Council of La Raza (NCLR). Also, for the first time, the Census Bureau is providing a bilingual form for Spanish speakers. The Census is completley confidential and is not shared with other government agencies. There is a growing effort to make sure Latin communities know that their census form responses are safe and confidential. You can display this poster in your community to create awareness of the coming census.

“For Latinos, participating in the 2010 Census is as important as exercising our right to vote. Census results will reflect the strength of our community and they will cement our demographic value. Hacernos contar es imperativo, se lo debemos a nuestras generaciones futuras!” — Rafael A. Fantauzzi, president & CEO, National Puerto Rican Coalition

More information on: Facts on the Hispanic or Latino Population Hispanic Population of the United States Toolkit for Reaching Latinos


Spanish Translation in the Health Care System

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

According to the 2000 census, over 21 million people in the United States have limited English proficiency (LEP). Nearly 28 percent of all Spanish speakers in the United State fall into this category. This language barrier can be a serious disadvantage in providing quality health care. It can affect an LEP patient’s access to services, their ability to give informed consent for medical treatment, and their compliance with drug regimens and follow-up. Patients who speak little or no English may be at greater risk of medical error or misdiagnosis if they are not provided with an interpreter, are less likely to use preventive care services, and more likely to use emergency rooms than English speakers. They also need more diagnostic tests, are less satisfied with the medical care they receive, and are often dissatisfied with the quality of the translated material they are given.

Addressing these concerns, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health has issued a number of guidelines which are primarily directed at health care organizations with the goal of providing meaningful access to LEP patients; however, individual providers are also encouraged to use the standards to make their practices more culturally and linguistically accessible. These guidelines are detailed in the Department’s National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care (CLAS). Most relevant for this article is Standard 7, which states that “an effective language assistance program ensures that written materials that are routinely provided in English to applicants, patients/consumers, and the public are available in commonly encountered languages other than English. It is important to translate materials that are essential to patients/consumers accessing and making educated decisions about health care”.

These guidelines discuss in great detail the importance of using qualified translators and the need for establishing procedures that will assure the quality of the translated materials given to the public:

“The use of qualified translators is crucial to ensuring the accuracy of translated written materials.  Organizations should have written criteria for selecting translators and translation vendors. At a minimum, organizations should ensure that translators have 1) previous experience, education, and training in translation; 2) command of both English and the language into which the material will be translated; and 3) familiarity with medical terminology. Criteria for selecting translation vendors should include a review of 1) translation methods and procedures used, from submission of English copy to printing of finished material; 2) recruitment and training of translators; and 3) procedures for reviewing translated materials. Organizations also should have in place knowledgeable people to work with translators or vendors during the translation and review process to determine the quality of purchased translations.”

The section ends with the injunction to “avoid ‘wildcat’ translations (e.g., the doctor’s sister who took Spanish in collage), however tempting the financial advantages”.

Spanish Translation US has teams of life science expert Spanish translators that can work on all life science related documentation from complex pharmaceutical manual to patient customer care documentation and forms.

For more information, visit: Spanish Life Science Translation

For more information about CLAS standards, visit:

Related News:

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) voted in favor of President Obama’s health care reform proposal. They belive it will greatly improve the quality of life for millions of Latinos. The measure is expected to expand coverage to 8.8 million Latinos, or 60%of the currently uninsured Hispanic community.

“This bill is important for all Americans, but it is particularly critical to our Latino communities which have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country. The bill provides access to affordable health care to the millions of uninsured Latinos in this country through Medicaid expansion, access to health insurance exchanges, and subsidies to help low and moderate income families,” said Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the Chair of the CHC Task Force on Health.

A press release from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus:

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Calls for Passage of Health Care Reform


Spanish Market in the United States

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The current population is estimated to be 6 million. However, the United Nations expects this number to increase to 90 million by the year 2025. And the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050.

According to UNESCO data, there are approximately 400 to 500 million Spanish speaking people in the world. The Spanish language is used by 7-8% of the world’s population, although that figure will increase significantly.  These figures account for the population of countries with Spanish as their official language, including 30 million people in the United States who speak Spanish on a regular basis. Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority in the United States and Spanish ranks second as the language spoken most widely at home.

These numbers clearly indicate a tremendous growth in the demand of Spanish media communication, information, entertainment, websites and so on.  Companies are starting to realize that translating their websites into Spanish is a must if they are reach a consumer market that continues to increase at a significant rate. Although most Hispanics live in big cities, states such as Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Virginia are experiencing larger migration.

Communication media tries to meet market demand by offering quality Spanish programming, as the Spanish media and publicity market in television, newspapers and magazines published in Spanish continues to grow. However, the demand is not only for Spanish content but for quality Spanish content, i.e well translated material.

I have already mentioned that there is no single form of Spanish. Each target market should be considered when a products being launched into the Spanish language (Mexican, Columbian, US Spanish), Latin American Spanish in general (or what we call “neutral Spanish”) or Spanish from Spain. By taking into account this information, a good translation service can deliver a good quality product specific to each customer and thus provide the Hispanic market in the United States with the translations needed. Follow the links to find general information about the Spanish translation for the United States, specifically the online Hispanic market or Hispanic market research.

Source: Mercado de español en los Estados Unidos


Should the US adopt Spanish as a Second Language?

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Spanish is the second most-common language in the United States. There are 45 million Hispanics who speak Spanish in the United States, making it the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking community. German, Italian, Polish, Russian and Greek are also spoken among older generations of immigrants. Also spoken are Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. And let’s not forget that there is also a small population of Native Americans who still speak their native languages.

However, it may surprise you to learn that the United States does not have an official language, even though the majority of the population speaks English. According to an ACLU briefing paper, the proposal was “rejected as undemocratic and a threat to individual liberty” by the Continental Congress. Needless to say, the proposal of any official language in the United States is simply out of the questions.


Neutral Spanish

Friday, November 13th, 2009

To wrap up my previous post, I’d like to make a brief comment on this subject.

A translation targeted towards different Spanish speaking regions or countries should be translated into “Neutral Spanish”. As I mentioned before, it’s very important that the client be aware of this. What we’re talking about is a standardized version of Spanish, especially in terms of vocabulary, so that all Spanish speakers can understand its meaning. We already established that there is only one Spanish language, but it’s spoken differently throughout the world. Grammar -the syntax itself will be basically the same regardless of any variations. But the choice of certain terms and idioms (phrases, loanwords, sayings, idiomatic phrases, etc.) will need to be adapted in order to reach a middle ground. The use of the RAE Spanish dictionary (Royal Spanish Academy) is essential. This is the bible and guide for translators in search of what Wikipedia defines as “a version that tries to avoid terms that may be identified with specific countries (“ordenador” is most used in Spain while “computadora” in turn is used in America) or linguistic regional phenomena (the Latin American voseo)…”.


The Futures of Spanish and English

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

A few years ago, the findings of a study were released that set off a bit of an uproar in the United States. The study contended that as of July 1st, 2050, the United States will have more Spanish speakers than any other country in the world. More than Mexico, more than Colombia, more than Spain. The results have since been refuted, with some claiming that Spanish-speaking immigrants will have become “Anglicized” and others pointing out the fact that the study was conducted by the Cervantes Institute, a chain of Spanish language schools.

However a different study released by a somewhat more credible source, the EFE news agency, may come to many as even more surprising. By the year 2030, Spanish will have surpassed Hindi and English to become the second most spoken language in the world, trailing only Mandarin Chinese. This report predicts that the number of people in the world whose native language is Spanish will surge from 5.7% to 7.5%.

Will either of these forecasts hold true? Vamos a ver.


Spanish Grammar Help

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I’ve talked before about the list of glossaries that a friend of mine put together (and which I’m sure she’ll add to in the future). While going through these glossaries, I came across a couple of little grammar problems in Spanish that can be troublesome.

The first topic is the use of the personal pronoun “se“. www.elcastellano.org has a good list of the uses of this pronoun, along with some very clear examples of use. This list can be especially useful for non-native Spanish speakers who may have difficulties understanding these constructions. “Se puede” learn on this page.
Another topic that is generally easy for native speakers but trips up speakers of Spanish as a foreign language is the use of “que“. That same site ,elcastellano.org, has another area that talks about the different uses of the pronoun que (interrogative, exclamatory, relative) and the conjunction, letting you know which ones have an accent mark and which don’t. It also has a little bonus on “dequeísmo“, which is the ever-growing error (by both native speakers and others) of using “de” incorrectly. In order to avoid misusing the preposition, we often convince ourselves that de que is incorrect when it actually should go there.

To wrap up this summary of “mini-topics,” I also found this area that discusses common errors and questions on accent marks. Who hasn’t been unsure of whether or not to put an accent mark on “ti”, “éste”, “aún”…? Well, éste is a great site to find explanations and examples all together.


How Many Words Does a Language Have?

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

How many words are there in Spanish? How about in English? Depending on who you ask, there are different answers… There is a certain tendency (among Spanish-speakers) to overestimate the number of words in Spanish as well as the overall variety of the language’s forms. Some say that it is out of a need to win some kind of competition more so than a defense of real numbers.  The problem is that there are no concrete figures… How does one go about counting the words?

I’d say that Spanish has a “ton” of words, or maybe even a “gazillion.” This makes me wonder: Does “gazillion” count as a word? What about other localisms and slang? You would also have to add the special terms used by certain groups: doctors, lawyers, artists of all types, “marginalized”
individuals (locked up, drug addicts, etc.). You won’t find these words in dictionaries. And so I ask myself: Do you count all of the feminine and masculine variants, the singulars and plurals, the diminutives, the augmentatives….? And aaaaaaaaallll of the words that we make up each day, for text messages or chatting: some abbreviations, other “stretched” ones (like the second one in this sentence), other manipulated words or “vesre”* in Spanish? We also have “imported” words, the ones we copy, borrow and steal from other languages, plus those that undergo a slight phonetic modification and adaptation so that we can consider them new. And there are also bad words (which we’ve discussed here before) and although they are “bad,” there are a lot of them and they are widely used… even if they’re not in the dictionary. Does whoever counts words include those?

With everything said and done, whether it’s 100,000 or 300,000 words that “exist,” how many do we actually use? Depending on our cultural upbringing, I’ve heard that we use between 1000 and 10,000 words. How many more are there that we don’t use because while they are still in the dictionary, they are obsolete, out of style, etc.  Many are relegated to a catalogue of unused words that once belonged to our language. And many more will continue to be incorporated as language never stops growing.

However many they may be, they are our “prime materials” and we have to keep learning them in order to be able to use them in our daily lives.
* “vesre” («revés» en vesre) is to form words backwards: this is a type of word formation that consists of the permutation or metathesis of the syllables of a Spanish word. This stems from the Castilian Spanish spoken in the River Plate area of Argentina and Uruguay and was popularized by the tango scene at the beginning of the twentieth century. A few examples: “mionca” (camión), “ñoba” (baño). ( http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesre)


Spanish in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

When looking at the use of the Spanish language in the U.S., the numbers speak for themselves. According to the 2006 Census, the United States now has more than 35 million Spanish speakers, meaning there are more people speaking Spanish in the U.S. than in Venezuela, Chile, or Cuba. In fact, the U.S. currently has the sixth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. The annual growth rate for the Latino community in the U.S. is approaching 4%, more than triple the overall growth rate, and experts say that by the year 2050, more than 25% of the U.S. population will speak Spanish.

These numbers have caused quite a stir, sparking debates on a “national language,” immigration policy, language in schools, and more. Even Presidential candidate Barack Obama has spoken his mind on the subject, stating “Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English. They’ll learn English. You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.”

Now, what do you do when millions of people in the same country aren’t speaking the same language? Translate of course. Television, magazines, and other media now provide translated versions to reach a greater audience. Businesses like McDonalds and Coca-Cola spend millions on translating and localizing their marketing efforts to reach U.S. Spanish speaking customers. The intention here is not to provoke debate, but rather to point out that translations and translators, both formal and informal, have become the new liaison in the U.S.


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