September 2, 2009
The power and influence of Spanish-language media is undeniable. According to Forbes Magazine, Spanish-language media in the U.S. continues to boom with a broadcast market that has grown from about 200 television stations six years ago to more than 350 today. Spanish language print circulation has been growing steadily in the last several decades from about 140,000 in the 1970s to well over 2 million today.
In many communities across the U.S., Spanish language television stations, radio broadcasts, newspapers, magazines and Web sites have become commonplace. The growth of Spanish language media has seen impressive increases in advertising dollars every year for the last 10 years.
In 2008, U.S. businesses spent almost $2.5 billion on Spanish-language advertising, according to TNS Media Intelligence Data. For many American companies, Spanish-language advertising has become a critical part of their marketing efforts.
In El Paso, Spanish is the language of preference for many people. It is also widely spoken as a courtesy to Mexican nationals who often live, work and do business along the border. Nothing wrong with that.
Unfortunately, too many immigrants find neither the need nor the desire to become fluent in the English language. Many simply find it completely unnecessary to do so, confident in the fact that the bank teller, the store clerk and the police officer will always speak to them in their own language.
But English is the dominant language of the U.S. and should be spoken by all of its citizens, even those living along the border with Mexico.
No, there is no worry that English will ever fade as the country’s first language. A Pew Hispanic Institute report a few years ago noted that the children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants almost always stray from their Spanish-language roots and eventually become dominant English speakers.
What is worrisome is that far too many adult immigrants and legal foreign residents living in the U.S. have failed to master the English language despite some having lived in this country for decades. Many simply don’t recognize fluency in English as an important part of their personal development.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here. By no means am I a rabid advocate of the English Only or English First movements. I certainly don’t support declaring English as the country’s official language and I am not calling on anyone to forsake their fist language.
But for all of the positive purposes served by the Spanish language media in the U.S., the industry is unwittingly shooting its own beneficiaries in the foot by not becoming more proactive in encouraging its audience to seek full fluency in the English language.
According to Forbes Magazine, mainstream advertisers count on a substantially large 18-to-35 demographic that speaks little or no English. This translates into several million people living in this country who lack the English language skills needed to take full advantage of the opportunities the U.S. has to offer.
The social and cultural implications are enormous. Without adequate English-speaking skills, few can expect to achieve the highest levels of success in U.S. society. Without those skills, too many citizens are apt to be left behind.
With their strength and influence, Spanish-language media outlets are uniquely suited to help rectify this situation. Trouble is, they’re doing little or nothing to help the non-English speaking population blend into the dominant population. Spanish-language media should be taking the lead role in helping non-English speakers make the transition into the country’s dominant language and culture.
In one sense, Spanish language media are actually working against the larger interests of the non-English speaking population. Media organizations like Univision and Telemundo are content to stay plugged into a lucrative market while serving only two purposes: Keeping Spanish language viewers monolingual - and keeping them loyal to their outlets.
Spanish language media executives will argue it is not their role to serve as advocates for the mastery of the English language. There is simply no economic reason whatsoever for Spanish media outlets to, in effect, voluntarily cast their huge audience away toward the English language media.
To an extent, they’re right, but surely they must consider it a part of their civic responsibility to at least encourage non-English speakers to become full participants in American Democracy. The first step to that end is fluency in the dominant language of the land.
Roy Ortega is a journalist with more than 30 years in the television, print and online news business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.