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English-Language Learners

Puerto Rico’s Governor Pushes for Fully Bilingual Citizenry

By Lesli A. Maxwell — May 08, 2012 1 min read
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In a bid to make Puerto Rico a full-fledged bilingual society, Gov. Luis Fortuño has rolled out a controversial proposal that would make English the primary language of instruction in all courses taught in the island’s public schools. Spanish grammar and literature classes would still be offered under the Republican governor’s plan to make the U.S. territory fully bilingual within the next decade.

According to this Associated Press story, all of Puerto Rico’s public schools are required to teach the English language from kindergarten through high school, but just a dozen of Puerto Rico’s public schools offer an all-English curriculum as envisioned by Fortuño. U.S. Census data show that nearly all Puerto Ricans report speaking Spanish at home and that well more than half do not consider themselves to be fluent in English.

The AP story also says that 9,000 Puerto Rican teachers are devoted to teaching the English language in public schools. That seems like a pretty solid pool of teacher capacity to build on for the Fortuño plan, but the territory’s former education secretary, Gloria Baquero, says many of those teachers struggle with speaking English fluently. Roughly 473,000 children were enrolled in Puerto Rico’s public schools in 2010-11, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Some critics of the governor’s proposal believe he’s pushing to make English the primary language used in public schools for political reasons—chiefly, his aim to make Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state.

Statehood and Puerto Rico’s relationship with English are prickly topics. You may remember a couple of months ago when former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum mistakenly insisted in media interviews that until Puerto Rico adopted English as its “official language,” it could not become the 51st state. Puertorriqueños responded with a resounding primary win for Mitt Romney, who, some GOP strategists have speculated, is keeping Fortuño on his list of potential running mates.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.