Christian Living

wehispanics 09/15/09

English is the Language of the Earth

(Click here for Spanish translation) I like to tell my friends amusingly that "English is the language of the Earth, but Spanish is the language of Heaven" being that Spanish is practically the language of the city of Los Angeles; and thus if you don’t learn Spanish now, you will have to learn it in purgatory before entering Heaven.

As someone who has gone through the process more than once, I know that learning a foreign language as an adult can be a real purgatory. Notwithstanding, English language proficiency as a tool for learning, working and intercultural approach has an importance today that is hard to exaggerate, because today English is the “lingua franca” of the world.

Yet for millions of people, whose lives would be much richer, happier and more convenient, if they succeeded in conquering this language, face internal and external barriers that make it difficult or impossible to speak in English. In writing this bilingual blog I have tried to facilitate this transition for our readers, with whom I’ll share some reflections today on learning English.

Languages give form to and reflect the soul of their people groups. Cultural differences between Hispanics and English speakers are clearly manifested in our respective languages, not only in grammar and vocabulary, but in style as well.


Spanish is the more flowery language of the two, where beauty is manifested in the wealth of vocabulary and in onomatopoeia, its turning style and sounds, and we prefer meaning to be allusive and figurative. English, on the other hand, finds elegance in simplicity, in the use of words that make logic transparent and unadorned, in the use of direct phrases that leave no doubt as to the author’s meaning.

Learning English is not merely a task of translating meaning from our language, but rather a transition into the mindset and the soul of a very different people group.  Hispanics have to learn not only to communicate information, but to do so in a way that allows others capture what we mean. We often have to redo our own thinking, to make it clearer, more logical and conclusive, and then translate that revised version into English. I have been blessed to learn in my own home, from my wife, who is an English literature teacher, as she tells her Hispanic students: “I want you to learn not only to write but to think!"

Besides the fact that adults do not memorize as easily as children, as Hispanics we have not developed the mental “muscles” needed to speak English well. Each language develops a muscular system suitable for the playing of sounds and to develop these in foreigners requires time, discipline, and a good ear or a patient tutor which not everyone has.

In closing, I’ll share a personal theory of how political obstacles may hinder the learning of English, which I have witnessed in many others several times, and includes my own experience. The foreign reader will have no difficulty in recognizing that there is a strong “anti-Yankee” current in the Spanish speaking world. It stems from a combination of nationalistic pride, resentment of what’s been labeled as "imperialism" and a willingness to criticize the strongest in defense of the weakest (to this day I'm surprised at the innocence of some of my North American friends who still don’t understand how this came about and why it lingers.)

Just as love and friendship can provide a great motivation for learning a foreign language quickly and correctly, political resentment and animosity may delay or even prevent someone from “bowing” their will and mother tongue, to learn the language of another whom they may not love. I've witnessed more than one case of someone admit that their political beliefs prevented them from embracing the language and soul of another; and that when they "forgave" their political opponents that brought about a remarkable breakthrough in their learning process.

All this points to that learning a foreign language requires, in the best of cases, a good dose of love for the other people group.

Please send your comments to blog@joselgonzalez.com and please read more of our articles on Hispanic culture at www.semilla.org. See you next week…