Misconceptions about Puerto Rico and Statehood: Puerto Rico Must Learn English

“For Puerto Rico to come in as a state,” said former senator Rick Santorum, “I have no doubt that one of the requirements would be that English would be universal here on the island.”

In this video clip from El Nuevo Dia, Santorum does not back down from his claim that he thinks Congress will require Puerto Rico to become more comfortable with English, but he doesn’t repeat his earlier claim that this is a matter of federal law. He also says he sees this need for English as an opportunity.

This doesn’t sound as bad as the remark that brought Santorum’s views on English and Puerto Rico into the limelight:

Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law… And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.

The problem with this claim is that it isn’t true. The United States — unlike Puerto Rico and a number of states — does not have an official language. Many states, including New Mexico and Louisiana, did not have a majority of English speakers when they became states.

Spanish speaking states

Puerto Rico would not be the state with the highest number of Spanish speakers if statehood were granted today. It might have the highest proportion of Spanish speakers of any of the 51 states — but there are many counties in the U.S. with equal concentrations of Spanish speakers.

Both English and Spanish are official languages in Puerto Rico. English is widely spoken in Puerto Rico, as it is in the world at large, but there are in fact no legal requirements for states to use English. In order to qualify for statehood, a territory must have a large enough settled population and a constitution, but there are no language requirements.

Santorum was simply mistaken.

But the claim continues to be made in social media and elsewhere.

Some who oppose statehood try to scare Puerto Ricans by saying that Puerto Rico would lose the Spanish language after statehood. There is no evidence that this would be true. Spanish is spoken by millions on the U.S. mainland. It is the second most frequently spoken language in the U.S. after English. It will not prevent Puerto Rico from becoming a state.

2 Comments

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Language fluency does not necessarily equal language proficiency and vice-versa. English proficiency is measured in PR schools through standardized tests. Can these tests scores improve- absolutely!
Spanish and English language proficiency do provide better local, domestic and international employment opportunities. PR Statehood with a proficient bilingual workforce will enhance our nation’s role domestically and internationally.

On the other hand, the language discussion needs to move beyond mere fluency or proficiency. We are a nation of immigrants with extensive language and cultural diversity. Our diverse unity is achieved through the common bond of understanding our nation’s history – how we came to be- and our ability to communicate in one common language – English.

How can PR English language education improve ?- the newly elected PR governor, Pedro Pierluisi, should take a strong stance in optimizing the public PR educational school system. In just 10 years – the PR public school system can transition to one equivalent to those in the mainland. Grades – kindergarten to first grade can immediately start an all English educational curricular system in the fall of 2021- and continue each year until their High school graduation. Those older and already in the system- can have additional classes to optimize their language skills, coordinated with teachers training. Top USA states have strong educational systems and lower poverty rates. The PR public school system must be as good as those of the private schools. Optimizing PR public school education is not just about achieving Statehood. It is about securing PR economic future and its workforce, within the dynamic
global restructuring.

Elections have consequences. The demographics of registered voters, matter.
Which is more powerful- and educated electorate – or an electorate that chooses its leaders based on cheap loud slogans and /or are influenced by celebrities who preach what they do not practice?

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