Bilingualism is a benefit in more ways than one

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Andrea Mungia/Staff

Cartoon by Andrea Mungia

Hand gestures, frustration and a loss for words. Sounds like a tough game of charades, but it is the reality for monolingual speakers working in multilingual Chula Vista.

Hearing rapid-fire Spanish while walking to class or Tagalog in the library is a common occurrence at Southwestern College. After attending the school long enough, other spoken languages begin to sound like background music.

Proximity to the Mexican border means passive Spanish is the #1 “foreign” language. Sitting on the Pacific Rim also means culturally-diverse Chula Vista is home to Pacific Islanders, Asians, Europeans and bi-racial people with a polyglot of tongues.

Statistics gathered by the United States Census for Chula Vista found that 56.1 percent of  residents spoke a language other than English at home. These results are a daunting number compared to the 20.5 percent that the rest of the U.S. faces.

One is the loneliest number. Living in Chula Vista makes it tough to be a monolingual. Foreign tongues live in businesses, churches and athletic events. Some monolinguals are even outnumbered in their own household. Few things are more frustrating than mostly understanding another language but not being able to communicate back.

In some parts of the United States bilingualism is a plus. In Chula Vista it is essential. Bilingualism is a strength and a commitment. Job opportunities often hang on the ability to communicate in another language. Admitting monolingualism to a prospective employer can be a deal breaker. Being trapped with only one language can stunt conversation, social interrelation and prosperity especially in the workplace.

Communication barriers can cause anxiety and a feeling of helplessness. Playing charades to help a customer  causes frustration.

Speaking more than one language increases employability and can mean higher pay. California Department of Personnel Administration studies show workers earn more an hour. Bilingualism can literally pay off.

Monolinguals can miss promotions because they cannot talk to co-workers. It is hard to be the leader when the leader cannot be understood.

Dr. Angelica Suarez, vice president of student affairs, said that helping others who have not mastered English is a valuable asset in Chula Vista.

“It’s essential to learn to speak the language of the country that you are living in or are in close proximity to because it helps you navigate the system,” she said. “I’ve used it to help others, whether it is family members or others in my community to help them navigate or transition.”

Some nativists argue that we should speak only English in the United States. That mindset is archaic in a fast paced world. Besides, languages are part of the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of our region.

In some parts of the United States being bilingual makes a person the minority. In Chula Vista, bilinguals are the majority. Multilingualism is an important role in lifelong learning. It is never too late to start learning a new language, and on a campus like SWC there are thousands of people to practice with.

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  • I think there’s a misconception when American workers in American companies should be bilingual when they come across Spanish-speaking customers. You don’t reportedly see Mexican workers in Mexican companies having to be bilingual when they come across American-speaking customers. I can’t even go to Lolita’s across the street from SWC, and have the employee understand what I am saying when I ask, “Can I have a 32 ounce soft drink, please?”