How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The case for living in two languages

Book cover of "Bilingual Is Better."

Bilingual Readers

Book cover of "Bilingual Is Better."

The coauthors of a new book titled "Bilingual is Better," Roxana A. Soto and Ana L. Flores, also happen to be the two bloggers and bicultural mamis behind Spanglish Baby, a go-to site for parents who are trying to raise bilingual children.

To call such an undertaking a struggle is an understatement. Public school English-as-a-second-language programs have given way to English immersion for non-native speakers, and schools offering dual-language immersion classes are very limited. Even if they are learning a second language, some children rebel and only want to speak English. There are naysayers. The list goes on.

But the research out there does point to how speaking a second language is good for you, benefiting the brain in numerous ways, and eventually the pocketbook as dual language skills can help boost one's career prospects. And there are no better cheerleaders for life in two languages than Soto and Flores, who grew up bilingual themselves and are now raising bilingual children, at least trying their best to.


Readers weigh in: Does not speaking your family's native tongue make you any less culturally authentic?

After San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivered the keynote address during the Democratic National Convention last week, part of the conversation afterward revolved around his lack of fluency in Spanish. Yet as a third-generation Texan of Mexican descent, is someone like Castro really expected to be fluent in the language of his immigrant grandmother?

Not so, if you look at the way language evolves across immigrant generations. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, native language fluency drops off with each generation; among Latinos, only one in four among the third generation are fluent in Spanish. A post earlier this week discussed this, as well as whether not being fluent in the language of one's immigrant ancestors makes one any less culturally "authentic" as a member of that group. After all, while language serves as a cultural bridge, there are other aspects of ancestral culture that get passed on.


¡Yo quiero pizza! Pizza chain wades into politics of culture, bilingualism and free food

A pizza chain in Texas is causing a stir with a promotion scheduled for early June in which customers will receive a free pizza if they order in Spanish. Just a few magic words like "pizza, por favor," and you're in. Yes, it can be considered political to a point. The Pizza Patrón chain is based in Dallas, but it has two stores in Farmers Branch, which has a resolution making English the official language of business. But the campaign also encourages the tiniest bit of bilingualism in exchange for free food, and neither - a second language or free food - is a bad thing.

In a place like Southern California, the possibilities for language-related marketing campaigns like this one are endless. Free bánh mì sandwiches for those who order in Vietnamese? Or perhaps a dim sum eatery offering a free dish of shrimp har gow for those who order it in Cantonese?


Posts of the week: The Trayvon Martin case, how being bilingual makes you smarter, media diversity, generation 1.5 and more

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The tragic shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and how race factored into it has dominated the headlines this week. But there's also been good news (being bilingual can make you smarter!) and an unexpected call for media diversity from, of all places, Los Angeles City Hall. Without further ado, a few of the week's highlights:


Your brain on a second language: Bilingualism and brain power More evidence that speaking a second language boosts brain power. According to research, the mental focus it takes to switch from communicating in one language to another is a "workout" for the brain that improves cognitive and problem-solving skills, and can even delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms.


With shooter's ethnicity, race becomes an even bigger part of the Trayvon Martin story A recent development in the case involving the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black boy shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, was that the shooter, George Zimmerman, is half Latino. There were some interesting reactions to this online, including from some non-Latino whites who had felt scapegoated.


Your brain on a second language: Bilingualism and brain power

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Does being bilingual really make you smarter? Science staff writer Yudhijit Bhattacharjee made a good argument for it in the Sunday New York Times, citing several studies in recent years which suggest that the ability to speak a second language indeed boosts cognitive skills.

Key to the most recent understanding of how this works is a reversal in attitudes toward a second language being an "interference." Once thought to have hindered academic and intellectual development, this factor turns out not to be such a bad thing after all. Bhattacharjee writes:

They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other.

But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.