Puerto Rico’s English Language Conversion

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryAccording to Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education, Edward Moreno Alonso, English will be used as the sole language of instruction in 31 public schools starting this August. Puerto Rican children between the ages of nine and 13 will be taught all subject in English with the exception of Spanish and history. The switch to instruction in English only is part of Puerto Rico’s attempt to make the population of the island fluent in the English language. It is part of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno’s ten year project to help Puerto Rican children be fluent in English. By the end of the ten year project it is hoped that all 860 public schools throughout the island will hold their language of instruction in English. This is to put it mildly extremely controversial, and there is no doubt that there are many in opposition to this project.

Already there is a lot of screaming from the Popular Democratic Party. Many within that party are highly critical of what Governor Fortuno is doing. Many in that party see it as a threat to the use of Spanish. For so many Puerto Ricans, Spanish is the language of their cultural heritage, their ancestry, their social and political integrity, and the language of their ancestry. The Puerto Rican Independence Party is more direct—this political party sees this project as the brainchild of Governor Forttuno and his ruling New Progressive Party to try and bind Puerto Rico more to the United States to eventually make the island the 51st state. They also see Fortuno’s move as an “ideological obsession” to destroy Puerto Rico’s cultural and social heritage. Both parties are in agreement that they do not want to see English replace Spanish, and both are opposed to Puerto Rico becoming another U.S. state.

It is a fight as old as the creation of Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth. When the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was created in 1954, it was hoped that Puerto Rico’s status with the United States would be resolved. And for awhile it seemed resolved. But obviously there are a growing number of people, like Luis Fortuno, who want to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. Will the English language instruction project be one of the keys to successfully make Puerto Rico another state? What can the opposition do to reverse this course? Will attempting to teach Puerto Rico’s future generation create a backlash among Puerto Ricans on the island? And what about Puerto Ricans in the United States itself? How do they feel about this attempt at teaching Puerto Rican children in English only? This attempt at teaching Puerto Rico’s future generation in English only was not the first time this was attempted. Puerto Rican children were taught in English only from 1900 to 1948. Currently, 96 percent of all Puerto Ricans speak Spanish as the primary language on the island. What Fortuno is doing is going against a very entrenched and solid institution and way of life among his own people. He may find the future is not as pliant as he thinks.

Comments are closed.