Floridians support requiring Spanish study

Two-thirds of the people in Florida say they would support a requirement that all students learn Spanish in the state’s public schools, and, somewhat surprisingly, the results are consistent across demographic differences, a new University of Florida survey has found.

Projected Hispanic population in Florida, based on University of Florida report

The results are important because the Hispanic vote is considered vital in the 2016 presidential election. Florida’s swing-state status and atypical Hispanic population give it a special standing in that election. Many of Florida’s Hispanics come from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, and Honduras, whereas the Hispanic population in other states has roots mainly in Mexico. The group doesn’t necessarily vote as a bloc, but issues like immigration reform can pull a sizable majority of Hispanic voters in one direction or the other.

Ester de Jong, a professor at the University of Florida’s School of Teaching and Learning, suggested a change to the graduation requirements in Florida’s public high schools would give students a competitive edge in their futures:

These are encouraging data that show Floridians are understanding that technology and the ability to communicate with and work with others from diverse backgrounds needs to be a priority to prepare our K-12 students for the 21st-century world.

As we know from research, bilingualism has many advantages—cognitive, educational, sociocultural, and economic. It is increasingly recognized that intercultural competence and multilingualism has the future competitive edge. I hope these data will lead to advocate for more funding and policies that support strong, well-designed dual language programs where students develop the level of proficiency in two languages needed for the workplace. This is a growing trend nationally with excellent academic and language outcomes.

Only Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia make foreign language credit a requirement for high school graduation. Connecticut will add the requirement for the Class of 2018. Michigan has added the requirement for the Class of 2016.

Several states, including Maryland and Oklahoma, allow foreign language credits to be substituted for other required courses in career and technical education, computers or technology, and fine arts. In addition, other states, such as Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana, strongly encourage the study of a foreign language as part of the high school graduation requirements by using different levels of high school diploma, with the highest levels requiring foreign language credits.

The University of Florida noted, “Between 1997 and 2008 there was a decrease from 31 percent to 25 percent of US elementary schools offering foreign languages, and from 75 percent to 58 percent among middle schools as an option, although about 91 percent of all high schools offer foreign languages.” The effect of this decline is that only 18 percent of Americans speak a language other than English. That number pales in comparison to the percentage of Europeans who speak a second language, 53 percent.

Voxitatis has covered bilingual programs with some depth

Many programs, like the one in Elgin, Ill.-based District U-46, include both native English speakers and English language learners in classes across the curriculum. That is, they promote not only bilingualism but also an understanding of school subjects in both languages. This gives kids an opportunity not only to talk about ordering food at a restaurant in Mexico or reading street signs there, but also to talk about substantive material with speakers of Spanish.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.