Why does being bilingual mean "Spanish-speaking, we don't care if you can't even speak English very well"?

In some businesses I’ve been to in the United States that advertise themselves as having bilingual staff, I’ve noticed that most of the workers are Mexicans who yes, speak Spanish very well, but their English is horrible. I’m not trying to make fun of them for their English, but seriously, it seems like bilingual these days means "Spanish required, English optional". I myself speak Spanish way better than some of these people speak English, and yet I doubt I would ever be taken seriously trying to get a bilingual job in California because they can always just go hire a Mexican who speaks Spanish better than me, but who speaks English far worse than me. I just can’t understand why there is so much emphasis on Spanish skills but almost none on English. And as a side question, why does it seem like the majority of Chicanos I’ve met are so arrogant about knowing both languages from birth? I even had one insisting that I’m not a true bilingual because I didn’t learn Spanish from birth.
Not one of you understood my question. My question is why do EMPLOYERS care so much about Spanish proficiency but almost nothing about their English proficiency. My question had nothing to do with immigrants refusing to learn English. My question is, why is it that someone who speaks Spanish at a 100% level but English at only a 25% level is hired over someone who speaks English at a 100% level and Spanish at a 75% level. It seems like to be considered "bilingual" you really just have to speak Spanish only, as long as you can get by in English you’re bilingual, but if you speak English natively, you have to speak Spanish very well or else you’re not bilingual. That was my question: why when it comes to being judged as a bilingual or not, native English speakers have to speak Spanish a lot better than native Spanish speakers have to speak English.


  1. Bilingual means the ability to speak two languages. In the USA, it usually means English and another language. When a store or company claims to be bilingual, it usually means they have people who can speak Spanish and people who can speak English and may be people who can speak Yiddish. It doesn’t mean one person who can speak all the languages. It is assumed that English is the primary language and the other language is secondary. It doesn’t mean Spanish or another language is less important. IWhen you apply for a job requiring bilingual, it is understood that English is a must in most companies If you’re able to communicate clearly and understood by others in Spanish and in English, you’re bilingual regardless if learned Spanish from birth or last year.

  2. I’m not prejudice or anything but why should we HAVE to learn a language other than English when we live in America? I think in order to come to our country foreigners should have to be able to speak near fluent English not me having to learn their language in order to communicate or get a job in America! Its nuts! Not a direct hit at you by any means…just got me fired up thinking about it!

    kimberly M
  3. Joe,
    Things have changed a lot since I left. About six years ago in an International Division, where I worked. We handled client’s problems on a daily basis, so you really needed to know the language. Sadly, it was not like that, I’ve always been a person available to help others, but these "only English" coworkers I had, made me even skip lunch to take care of their issues for their clients. The company made efforts to provide professors to learn the language…but they had no interest. Life was easy by having us, working for them. I was exhausted..believe.
    Are you sure is not a California thing? I hope it is.
    My mother brought me a cassette for my child translated into Spanish ( I guess in California) , it was horrible…and it was no proper Spanish. I remember, when I was a child the dubbing of English into Spanish was made either in Venezuela, or Spain. They were decent…this was horrible.

    Anyway, you are not happy there…why don’t you try another state. They will not let you advance and you need to star somewhere else. Let me know, I had some connections from my old job…I will be glad to refer you…

    Matrizcm- You have an excellent point counselor. However, the employee should abide to the requirements of the position. If the position states that one of your functions is to handle International clients on a daily basis (like in my old job), you must be able to read, write and speak the language or languages of the client.
    We followed any communication with the client(s) in both English and Spanish/Italian/Portuguese. Leaving English as the official communication for contracting. Every client did have to agree on that.
    Sometimes like in my situation, because the business was expanding in such a rapid manner, you needed to be open minded and learn another one or two languages. The company was paying for the education,,so why not? I learned Portuguese that way. However, I had coworkers that felt violated in their "nationalism". I didn’t see it that way..I saw opportunities..more skills, more opportunities.

    We see it everywhere…since I work so much with Internet I see it every single day request for not only two languages, even three besides the national language. I’m talking about Europe.
    But, like I said I do not agree with the way Joe has been treated. I know the Spanish spoken in California and is not good Spanish. A job should be given to the person best qualified to fill in the position

    Very well Signor Sindaco- It’s true. As you know mine came from Sevilla and Trapani. The Italian was difficult to keep, plus grandpa loved Spanish and cared nothing about the Italian language. However, there’s one thing allways taught in my family: "At home Spanish is a must". I had to change it a little bit with my girls to : "At home first English and Spanish", outside with your friends use Italian.
    It’s hard to raise a child bilingual. I did with the older one, back in the States. She now speaks perfectly English and Italian, has a little southern accent when she speaks Spanish, and now she even knows French. Instead, with the little rascal…I bombarded her since day one with English and Spanish plus the Italian. She’s 6 and understand very well Spanish and English. She even plays in English. I see it as a heritage from me to them.
    One funny thing, is that since I got here (Italy), we celebrate every year all American and latin holidays with my neighbours. They love it. Specially Thanksgiving. This year I’ll do my best to prepare Panamenian tamales for my old ladies..

    Anyway, Spanish is deep in our roots is not only the language, but our culture. I’ve learned all these languages and I say for me, to express my deepest emotions…it has to be in Spanish.
    bye guys!!!

  4. English. The international language of business. We don’t need to learn to speak anything else.

    Might want to get a job in the pharmaceutical industry. They lump Mexico and Latin America under the acronym ROW; Rest of World. No one bothers to concentrate much on them because there’s no business to be had there.

    Racist Answer Man
  5. I am not Mexican, but Latinamerican. It seems that the term "Chicano" is not respectable? It is better, I think, to refer them as people borned in USA but with latin american ancestrors. Few years ago, the problem was exactly the opposite; nowadays, unfortunately for you, spanish language skill could be extrapointed than english ones in same places like LA. I also think this language is not for litlle interest, bacause it is spoken for more than 400 millions, and in despite of another responders, the monetary amount and GIP of LA is growing in greater rates than USA one.
    Finally, I agree a person could not be considered as "bilingual" until he/she does not be able to succesfully communicate in such language other than their native.

  6. Joe – here’s my 2 cents…. English should not be an option in the US and so everyone that carries a SSAN should be able to speak English at least as well as my immigrant father did. His English was very basic for he was only a factory worker. I remember us kids in the house making fun of his English and at times even being embarrassed when he spoke it in public. As I grew older I learned to respect my father’s English – he never learned it in school (he always had to work) and basically picked it up on the street and maybe in the evenings watching TV (Lucy & Ricky Ricardo). He got by and kept a roof over our heads, bellies filled and put us through school (even though he couldn’t read).
    Baby boomer’s (1950’s) parents did their all to integrate into American culture leaving there home languages in a trunk up in the attic – at least most of them did. This unfortunately is difficult for Spanish speaking people to do. It is difficult for Spanish speakers to leave their heritage behind because it is always around the corner. It’s a short flight to Puerto Rico from NYC, a drive away from Phoenix to Mexico and a few hours by air from Chicago to Santo Domingo.
    At the turn of the century in the US the Germans, Italians, Poles and others created their ghettos (Little Italy in NYC for example) in order for those coming across to get some “orientation”. As we can see today many of those ethnic city centers have been given up to the new wave on in coming Hispanics. The old ethnics have moved up – leaving their parent’s home county language behind – and moved out. But Hispanics have not been able to do that. Geezz, how long has Spanish Harlem been intact? Spanish Harlem has been around since the turn of the century and there is no sign that it will ever disband, disintegrate, integrate, yield. It’s because Latin Americans are too close to their mater patria. The Germans were too far from home to continue to speak a contemporary German and so it went with the other European “ethnics”. No link to the mother country and the language you brought with you is no longer of use after a generation. You hold on to some of the traditions (foods, feats, habits, etc…).
    Where does this leave us with our Latin American population in the Americas. Oh, as a side thought – I sometimes jokingly say that the wave of Latin Americans in the US is Spain’s revenge to get back its colonies! So WHERE does all of this leave us. If my theory is correct then there is nothing to do because even a fence along the Mexican border won’t help. Non-professional and some of the linguistically lazy) Latin Americans are too close to home to care about leaning enough English to make you happy Joe. All there is to do now is to try to cope and come up with a long term policy to learn to live in the Land of the Free and Brave with the Spanish language at our sides.

    Genius Cook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.