Cervantes, Jefferson, and a bilingual America

It was as if Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and William Shakespeare had agreed in advance to simultaneously leave the world void of their genius: four hundred years ago, they both died on the 23rd of April. At least, it’s more interesting that way; they actually died a couple of days apart. Regardless, the exact dates are just a detail. Today, more than ever, their work is alive and, on Spanish and English Language Day, we celebrate their legacy.

These geniuses of Spanish and English literature, respectively, were ahead of their time and reinvented the written language, using their pens to touch the lives of artists and leaders in all latitudes. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, learned Spanish with a copy of Don Quixote and a grammar book while he crossed the Atlantic Ocean en route to Europe. He was convinced of “the power that language can have as a tool for human relations”.

Jefferson was a visionary man and foresaw the richness that bilingualism could bring to his country. In fact, he was not wrong – according to the United States Census Bureau, by the year 2050 around 138 million Americans will be able to communicate in the language of Cervantes, making the United States the number one Spanish-speaking nation in the world! This number is not surprising, as today 1 in 6 Americans are Hispanic, with this ratio expected to increase to 1 in 4 in only fifty years.

Excerpt of Opinion Piece by Emiliana Vegas, Chief of Education Division at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, DC. For the entire piece in English or Spanish visit: Bilingual America OR AmericaBilingue