Speaking Spanish is becoming a big plus
May. 14, 2005
On a beautiful Saturday morning, we took my son and his friend to the Great
Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Tempe Town Lake.
Before the race, organizers gave a little history of the event that originated
at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. I was there and watched my fellow
Salukis launch boats in the 1970s at Campus Lake. Talk about an innovative name
for the lake on campus.
After this year's Tempe version, we took the boys to Macayo's Depot Cantina. We
ran into a stumbling block when they couldn't find the bathroom. Seems they
didn't understand the Spanish sign, el Baño.
My son, who hasn't had formal Spanish training, once asked me, "What day is
Cinco de Mayo?" and "How do you say burrito in Spanish?" We're raising kids who
think Gila is pronounced with a hard g and sí is the third letter of the
I've been critical of the Kyrene School District for taking Spanish out of its
middle school core curriculum. It was supposedly done in response to budget
cuts. It was obviously easy to eliminate a course not subjected to standardized
It was a ridiculous move since the majority of Kyrene schools have Spanish names
and Spanish influence is prevalent in this area. Kyrene should probably
incorporate Spanish in elementary school.
More than 50 percent of the middle school students at Kyrene del Pueblo have
chosen Spanish as an elective next school year. The school will be scrambling to
get a few Spanish teachers back. Why was that surprising?
Some of you feel strongly that people who come to this country should learn
English. Good luck convincing them. Have you noticed that we cater to Spanish
speakers? There's not much incentive or encouragement for them to learn English.
At most stores you can use your bank card on a Spanish or an English key pad.
Convenience store exit doors are clearly marked in both languages. The manual
for my Maytag dryer came with Spanish instructions. Even Ikea, heavily
Swedish-influenced, provides its customers with Spanish or English wish lists.
A Tucson gas station didn't even give me an English option for my debit card and
the cashier couldn't understand me when I asked him about it. The former Kmart
at Baseline and Interstate 10 would make store announcements in Spanish. I'd ask
the girl at the customer service desk what they said and she didn't understand
I waited in line at Home Depot while the cashier tried in vain to communicate
with the customer in front of me. He spoke Spanish and tried to tell her that
he'd given her a $50 bill and not the $20 bill she was giving him change for.
Finally, they resolved the issue and she said to me, "Gosh, I wish I had paid
more attention to Spanish in high school." Me, too. Maybe my visit to Home Depot
would have been shorter.
Chances are good that businesses will be hiring more bilingual workers to
accommodate customers. Spanish speakers can get by without learning English. On
the contrary, learning Spanish would be helpful to us English-speaking people
living in an area inundated with Spanish words.
The trend toward Spanish reminds me of a crack on a frozen lake. It's hard to
stop that crack from inevitably increasing in size. It's the same for the number
of Spanish speakers. I hate to see the next generation left behind on a fragile
frozen lake, especially if not knowing Spanish is like being out there in a
Mary Ann Hemmingson is a 23-year resident of the East Valley who has been a
Tempe stay-at-home mom for 16 years. She can be reached at