With my whole family here, finishing up part one of Montessori training (the final submission will be about 100 pages long, questions and answers–close to 500 of them), getting a car and an apartment and trying to make my family love the island, I haven’t completed a single one of the half a dozen posts I have half written.
And then there is island time.
One of the things that was most of a draw for me in making decisions about bringing the family here had to do with the languages of this little island.
The official language is a creole called Papiamento (pronounced poppy-mento). It is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and native languages with a little bit of French and a couple other languages mixed in for good measure. If one speaks Spanish, they will understand the lion’s share of Papiamento, but there will be words in Dutch (which is also, like English, a Germanic language– so words are often not so difficult to guess) and it has a Portuguese flavor that is unmistakable. Words are often shortened (ayo=adios, ta=esta=is) or change one letter to another that sounds very similar (por fabor=por favor). Sometimes words are straightforward phonetic (awa=agua=water)
The government, however, is Dutch speaking along with Papiamento and schools educate the students in Dutch, which from my understanding, creates a genuine need for the GED program that is run out of the school where I work. There is something in the works to have kids in school start out in Papiamento and introduce Dutch slowly, but the teaching materials in Papiamento are scarce.
Natives who work in the tourist sector which brings in over a million people a year to this small island nation of about 100,000 people must speak 4 languages fluently to have a chance to work with tourists. All people in tourism speak Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento, which Papiamento being the home language.
It’s difficult for me to not draw comparisons to my home country. I have been told before only the smartest kids could learn a foreign language in the U.S., but it seems that is more a function of the way foreign language as taught, as an academic subject much of the time. It’s also tempting to speculate that the knowledge of a foreign language (or not) says something both about the way we educate: who is fortunate enough to receive an education that comprehensively includes foreign language from the earliest years, and the rest of us who haven’t received that education.
On the street here in Aruba, all the language diversity gets equal representation. Signs are either in English, Spanish, Dutch or Papiamento. In the Northern part of the island, it is not hard to get by speaking just English because the area is dominated by wealthy homes, high rise hotels and the white sand and clear sea salt turquoise waters. The East side of the island, the windward side, is mostly undeveloped and is home to Arikok Park which is a reserve that takes up a good 1/4 of the island.
What are the reasons you believe that the US is known to be a monolingual country? Is it really because we believe that other countries all speak English, so we don’t have to learn other languages? Why is the US one of only a handful of countries in the world that is persistently monolingual?