As we left the car rental center at the Fort Lauderdale airport to drive to Miami, the service agent had a word of advice for my colleague and me.
“Do you speak Spanish?” he asked.
“No,” we answered.
“Then don't get lost,” he cautioned.
Were we to get lost in Miami, he implied, there might not be a soul around for miles who could speak enough English to tell us where we were and how to get where we needed to go. During the latter part of the 20th century most Americans probably figured they could go anywhere in the country and pretty much assume they'd do just fine speaking their native tongue: English.
Today there are entire pockets where little to no English is spoken. Is this a bad thing?
Here's why: English is fast becoming not just the language of the United States, or even of traditionally English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. (English is also spoken in what are known as the Anglophone countries of Africa and the Caribbean.) English is fast becoming the world's language.
The following comes from one of those “shift happens” videos that can be found on You Tube. (The Web site that supplies the data is www.shifthappens.com.) In 2006, the United States had 1.3 million college and university graduates. India had 3.1 million, while China had 3.3 million.
Of India's 3.1 million college and university graduates for 2006, what percentage of them do you suppose spoke English?
Figures 60 percent or even 75 percent might be good guesses. But they're both wrong. The correct figure is 100 percent.
Here's another question: Within 10 years, what country will have the largest English-speaking population?
From the answer to the college graduate question, you might have guessed India. But you'd be wrong again. The correct answer is China, already established as a major economic and military power.
Chances are none of you chose the United States, since we're fast becoming a nation all to comfortable with a large non-English-speaking population in our midst. Let an elected official – such as Maryland Del. Pat McDonough – even suggest we make English our official language, and all the apologists and advocates for illegal immigrants will immediately whip out their ever-ready “racist” cards.
This crowd whips out those cards so frequently, and beats the racism horse so viciously, that they can't abide simple facts.
And the facts are these: There is not one Spanish-speaking nation that can be described as a major economic or military power. That's not racist; it's just a fact.
The Spanish-speaking nations that might come closest to being considered economic powers are Spain at No. 10 and Mexico at No. 11, according to the Web site www.corporations.org. It's worth noting that three countries with English as the predominant language – the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – are ahead of Spain and Mexico, as is China with its large English-speaking population. India is right behind Mexico and Spain at No. 12.
When it comes to military might, Spain and Mexico don't even figure in the mix, according to the Web site www.globalfirepower.com. The top five military powers are the United States, China, Russia, India and the United Kingdom. Mexico and Spain are a ways down, at Nos. 19 and 27 respectively.
It's the countries whose leaders recognize English, not Spanish, as a global language that will be the major military and economic powers of the future. Will the United States be one of them?
Only if Congress makes English our official language, and soon.
Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.