SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The governor of Puerto Rico is trying to do what more than acentury of American citizenship has failed to accomplish: teachPuerto Ricans to speak English as well as they do Spanish. Gov. Luis Fortuno, who has been mentioned as a possible Republicanvice-presidential candidate, has proposed an ambitious, and whatcritics call far-fetched, plan to require all public schools toteach all courses in English while still offering Spanish grammarand literature classes. The U.S. territory has had a long and contentious relationship withthe English language, and many Puerto Ricans are skeptical aboutembracing it, fearing they will lose a key part of their identityand find themselves a step closer to statehood, a status that onlyabout half of islanders have backed in recent polls.
The governor wants Puerto Rico to become the 51st U.S. state. Buthe says his plan is about economic necessity, not politics. “Bilingualism opens doors and provides opportunity to our childrenso they can shine and become successful in a labor market that isincreasingly competitive and globalized,” he said. Only 12 of the island’s 1,472 schools offer an all-Englishcurriculum of the sort envisioned by Fortuno, while 35 otherschools offer some courses in English, such as math and physicaleducation, said Education Secretary Edwin Moreno.
“The main idea is to have a Puerto Rican who can communicate inSpanish as well as English,” said Moreno, who acknowledged that hehimself has an imperfect command of English. Moreno is overseeing an initial $15 million project to install abilingual curriculum in 31 schools starting in August and toreinforce the English-Spanish curriculum already in place in the 35other schools. Plans for adding the rest are still hazy, but thegovernor says he wants all public school students to be bilingualwithin 10 years. Among those rejecting the plan is the Puerto Rico TeachersAssociation, whose president, Aida Diaz, said that while shesupports bilingual education, the notion of teaching all courses inEnglish is extreme. “This is wrong,” she said. Laminate Tube
“This leads us to substitute our ownlanguage for a secondary one. It should not be that way.” All public schools are currently required to teach English fromkindergarten through high school, and 9,000 teachers are devoted tothat, but about 96 percent of the island’s 3.9 million people speakSpanish at home, and some 2.8 million Puerto Ricans do not considerthemselves fluent in English, according to the U.S. Census. That puts Puerto Rican children — and fellow U.S. Flat Oval Tube Manufacturer
citizens onthe American mainland, as well — behind many Europeans insecond-language skills. According to a 2006 European Community study, 56 percent ofEuropeans say they can conduct a conversation in more than onelanguage. About 90 percent in the Netherlands and Germany say theycan do so. Only about a quarter of mainland Americans can hold aconversation in another language, some studies indicate. Former Education Secretary Gloria Baquero said the biggest problemin Puerto Rico is the lack of good English teachers. Plastic Cosmetic Tubes Manufacturer
“Their accent as well as their command of the language is not thebest,” she said. “They know the grammar, but the spoken language isnot their strong point. So we have a lot of English teachers whoend up speaking Spanish in class because the children don’tunderstand them.” One solution is to prepare teachers through immersion or exchangeprograms in the U.S., something that has been done intermittently,she said. Baquero said she and other educators support Fortuno’s plan butwarn it will be hard to implement: “Many people resent theimposition of language and associate any attempt to improve theirEnglish with political motives.” Fortuno’s proposal comes just months before voters face a two-partreferendum in November to help decide the island’s politicalstatus.
The first part of the referendum will ask if voters want a changein status or prefer to remain a U.S. commonwealth. The second partwill ask voters to choose from three options: statehood,independence or something in between called sovereign freeassociation. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has suggested that Englishbe the official language for all U.S. states but has said thereshould be no language precondition on Puerto Rican statehood.
English actually dominated Puerto Rican public education during thefirst half of the 20th century. From 1900 to 1948, all high schoolsubjects were taught in English, until the island’s firstdemocratically elected governor, Luis Munoz Marin, ended thepractice. “The learning of English was associated with a very real thrust bythe U.S. government to Americanize Puerto Rico,” said CarlosChardon, an anthropologist and former education secretary.
“A greatmajority of persons associated English with statehood.” In 1991, Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon went further by declaringSpanish the island’s sole official language. The law was repealed acouple of years later by Gov. Pedro Rosello, whose first officialact was to make both English and Spanish the official languages, alaw that stands to this day, even if only a few places have streetsigns in English.
Puerto Ricans, however, remain reluctant to learn English, saidJaime Morales, a public school teacher in the northern town of ToaBaja who is fluent in English. “They are not interested,” he said. “Because honestly, it’s hard tolearn the language.” Morales said he supports the idea of a bilingual curriculum butdoubts it will become a reality unless teachers are properlytrained, parents get involved and the education system improves. “The main problem here is that you have a community that does nothave good command of Spanish,” he said. “If they are deficient inSpanish, how do you pretend they are going to become fluent in asecond language?”.