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The WMail Newsletter Essays
Volume IV - Issue #31: January 2003


        The two most important languages on planet Earth these days are English – the language of international commerce and of the media – and Chinese, which is spoken by one of every six humans.
        The second tier of importance includes Spanish and Arabic and French – for their wide use – and Japanese, from Japan's economic influence.
        The third tier of importance covers Portuguese (for Brasil), German, and Russian.
        The remaining languages are essentially regional or minor.

        Success in business in the global economy requires fluency in one or more of the languages in Tier One or Tier Two, no matter where you live. This holds within both the corporate and government structures as well as for every individual. Business operations – reception, customer service, sales, websites, advertising – that entail use of one or more languages provide access to major additional segments of the global economy. Likewise, the executive or office worker or retail clerk with multi-fluency has the edge over co-workers and competitors who do not.
        The isolationism of single-language operations in business and in government amounts to arrogance, and eliminates the single-language entity from effective competition.

        There are any number of ways for the individual to learn a second or even third language. Immigrants – whether legal or illegal – who refuse to become fluent in the language of their host country prevent their own success. It is mind-boggling that there are Spanish-speaking families in East Los Angeles, for example, who have lived here in the U.S.A. for forty years and still have learned nary a word of English!
        Allegiance to 'Old Country' ways is not a bad thing, as such traditional cultures often have a richness lacking in dominant mass-media cultures. However, the avoidance of the primary means of communication with the host culture brings great harm, especially economically. If a job seeker cannot read the want ads in English, then he/she is restricted to a cultural ghetto. When non-English is spoken exclusively in the home, then the children of the second and third generations suffer a more-difficult time when each begins school. {See WMail Issue #6: How We Learn}

        When author Joseph Wambaugh first became a police officer, the L.A.P.D. assigned him to a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. His choice for learning Spanish was to attend the Spanish-language movie theaters in Downtown L.A. and learn the language by verbal example, by reading the English subtitles. (Perhaps nowadays such subtitled movies can be found on television.)
        Yet a great many Hispanics refuse to participate in ANY English-language input: Their allegiance to the ghetto includes Spanish in the home and possibly work environments, as well as exclusively Spanish-language newspapers and magazines and Spanish-language TV and radio and movies.
        If Hispanics do not absorb the English language as a tool for survival in the marketplace, then they close themselves off from participation in the larger culture – admittedly a dubious influence. But more important, they close themselves off from participation in the larger economy.
        (Since I live in Southern California, I cite the Hispanic population as an example; map the Tier One and Tier Two and other languages of your own locale onto the subject – ghettos come in many forms.)

        So the logical, success-promotive strategy is to learn one or more languages of a higher Tier: native tribes of Brasil should obtain knowledge of Portuguese; Mayans of Mexico should learn Spanish; Israelis should all learn Arabic; Arabic-speakers should learn English; Japanese and Koreans should learn either English or Chinese.
        And such must be the policy in the schools, from the first day of pre-school or kindergarten. Children who do not speak English (for example) are seriously disadvantaged in America. I do not propose any one method or program over another, but rather assert that the policy of bilingualism is necessary for the success of every individual and thus also for the success of local and regional society.
        Children who arrive late – teenage immigrants – as well as non-English-speaking adults must have access – or demand access – to instruction that provides rapid acquisition of English or other Tier One & Tier Two language skills.
        The metaphor of the 'melting pot' is out of date for the U.S. and many other countries what with air travel and massive migrations across continents and across oceans. There are pockets in California and elsewhere of 'the largest population of X-speakers outside the native country' – Iranians, Hmong, Armenians, Mandarin, Bengali, and so on.
        Such ghetto-language cultures need to be brought into the dominant culture, and language is the key.

        My first assignment at a security job several companies ago was at a factory near Downtown L.A. (off Vermont). After 7 p.m. the building was locked up except for the shipping department, so that door became my post position. The workers in shipping were mostly young and all Hispanic, tough their origin included countries from Mexico to Peru. So to make things interesting, I taught them some English and they taught me little bits of Spanish.
        One incident there provided me with a clear distinction about language. The alarm went off in the back parking lot and I went to check the back gates. In the ensuing discussion, we discovered that the Spanish word for gate is 'la puerta', which I already knew to be the word for door. I suggested other English synonyms like entrance and opening, and their small vocabulary could find no answer but 'la puerta'.
        I mentioned this to someone in conversation recently, and their response was that this is perhaps the reason that Spanish-speakers seemed to talk so fast: instead of 'gate', they have to add on adverb and-or adjectival qualifiers to modify the basic word for 'door'.

        So the perceived distinction back then was the richness of the complicated English language, which also pertains to Chinese and some others no doubt. The problem inherent (per this distinction) in being raised to speak – and to think in – a lower-tier language is that the lack of vocabulary is itself a major restriction. Much better to teach a child English or upper-tier language at home, so that they will be able to use that richness in their thinking. Compare the Oxford English Dictionary with one for any other language and you will see the difference made real; the giant English-language vocabulary came from multiple sources over time: Germanic Old English roots, Anglo-Saxon, Latin-French-Spanish, Greek, Arabic and virtually every other language. And each word means something a little bit different than any synonym.

        Being taught from the beginning of life to speak and to think from the vocabulary-rich languages of English or Chinese provides the individual with a distinct advantage in all subsequent communication. And adding a second language – from birth – multiplies that advantage.

        I first discovered the principle of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production from Claude Lelouch's superb "And Now My Love". It was produced and released in both English-language and French-language versions – and was neither dubbed nor subtitled! (Alas, neither version is available on video.) I later discovered that there is some history of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production in Hollywood and elsewhere. {See http://www.genordell.com/stores/lantern/bilingual.htm }
        In 1984, I created a screenplay, now entitled "El Tigron", about a Hispanic-American young man whose first language is English, and who is a reluctant hero when the pervasive clichι-stereotype gang culture of East Los Angeles endangers his family. I sent out copies of the script with a version of the bilingual webpage document cited above, and even managed to engage the interest of Edward James Olmos at one point.
        The economics of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production is quite simple: the budget of such a film in English alone is X dollars. The producing company can then sell rights to a second-language negative for one-third of X, which rights include distribution to second-language TV and feature and ancillary markets around the world.
        The rights-buyer receives non-dubbed, non-subtitled product and the original producer makes a neat profit on the deal, because the cost of a second-language print/negative is minimal. Most time on a movie set is spent moving camera or lights – hours – interspersed with dialogue and action scenes – minutes – so having the actors repeat the dialogue in the second language costs only a few feet more film. (Well, yeah, it probably requires a second continuity person, but what else?)

        The creation of non-dubbed, non-subtitled feature and TV product thus sends the message that the second-language market is NOT an afterthought, that the two languages can co-exist and yet be distinct. Movies made in Mexico, for example, can then be marketed in fully-English versions in the U.S. and elsewhere, with all other two-language combinations also removing the product from the ghetto of single-language (dubbed/subtitled) distribution.
        The motion picture industry of each and every non-U.S. or non-English market has an enormous potential opened up to him or her by the principles of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production. After almost twenty years, Hispanic media are just beginning to merge and grow into international corporations that may be able to see the benefits of this type of business arrangements. And if you make widgets at your company, the same may also apply.

*          *          *          *

        Each individual who learns and thinks in a Tier One or Tier Two language as well as their 'native' tongue has a social advantage; each company that thinks and produces and markets in a Tier One or Tier Two language as well as their local tongue has an economic advantage – in both cases, markets open up that were previously untapped.

        N'est-ce pas?

[copyright 2003 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved]

        ADDED May 2004: Directory of Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Programs in the U.S.

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