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Professional Development Unit/Session Three

 -  Spanish and Chicano English
 -  Immigrant Languages

Overview of Session

The Hispanic population is now the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States. With increased size has come increased visibility and cultural influence—but also more widespread and more entrenched stereotypes. Using sections at the end of Episode Two and the beginning of Episode Three of Do You Speak American? this session addresses the history and current status of the Hispanic population and its languages in the U.S. Spanish has a long history in the New World, where it has co-existed comfortably with English and has become an enduring and valuable part of the American heritage. Although some fear that Spanish could eventually replace English in the U.S., the study of other multilingual situations suggests that Spanish is not a threat to English, because English remains the dominant medium of cultural, political, and economic life as well as schooling. Finally, this session addresses Chicano English, a dialect spoken by some Americans of Mexican descent.

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  • Spanish and English in contact
  • Chicano English
  • Immigrant Languages

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Key Ideas

  • Spanish was established in parts of what is now the United States before English-speaking settlers arrived.
  • Spanish is becoming more prevalent in the U.S., but it does not threaten to supplant English.
  • Spanish-speaking immigrants come from diverse backgrounds and places. They speak a number of very different dialects of Spanish.
  • By the second or third generation in the U.S., most people of Hispanic descent have English as their dominant language. Some speak a variety of English known as Chicano English.
  • Speaking Chicano English does not signal limited proficiency in English. In fact, Chicano English speakers are usually native speakers of English and may speak little or no Spanish.
  • The United States has no official language.

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Key Terms

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Viewers will

  • Understand the history of Spanish in what is now the United States.
  • Understand the current language status of the Hispanic population.
  • Be able to characterize Spanglish and Chicano English.
  • Identify some features of Chicano English.
  • Relate this segment’s key ideas to their daily work in schools.

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Video Sections Used in this Unit

Do You Speak American? is available on both DVD and conventional videotape. Guides for accessing specific sections of the video have been formatted as follows:

Description/Episode         DVD Section      VT Time Code     Running Time                        

Hip Hop (DYSA/1)                   2.6                        [01:27:19]              (8:43)
For more information on accessing the video click here.   


In this unit:

South to the Border (DYSA/2)            9b-9c       [01:46:04]      (9:33)

Spanglish and Chicano (DYSA/3)     2a-2d       [01:02:25]     (6:51)

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Description of Segments

Spanish in Texas/ South to the Border (DYSA/2)   9b-9c   [01:46:04]      (9:33)

MacNeil speaks with Allan Wall, a U.S. citizen who lives in Mexico. Wall is a language teacher who believes that English should be made the official language of the United States and that Spanish poses a serious threat to national unity and to English in the U.S. Viewers then see a supermarket in Laredo, Texas, where customers and clerks speak mainly Spanish. MacNeil next interviews Robert Garcia, editor of the Laredo newspaper, which is published daily in both English and Spanish. Garcia describes how people in the area switch between English and Spanish. MacNeil then travels to El Cenizo, Texas. Under a previous mayor, El Cenizo made Spanish the town’s official language. MacNeil asks Garcia and Wall their reactions to El Cenizo’s decision. Then he meets up with a local border patrol as it tracks down a group of illegal immigrants attempting to cross from Mexico into Texas.

Chicano English in California/ Spanglish and Chicano (DYSA/3)
2a-2d [01:02:25]   (6:51) 

MacNeil travels to California where he gets a different view of the immigration of Spanish speakers into the U.S. MacNeil visits Patricia Lopez, who hosts a television show, Mex 2 the Max, that features Latino music videos. During her show, she alternates between English and Spanish, blending the two languages at times into what she refers to as Spanglish. She discusses with MacNeil the impact that Spanish and Spanglish have on contemporary American culture. MacNeil next meets with Carmen Fought, a linguist who does research on Chicano English. MacNeil and Fought observe some Chicano English-speaking boys in a park, one of whom does not speak any Spanish at all. Fought explains that Spanish is not a threat to English. She describes the process by which the descendents of Spanish-speaking people lose the language of their parents and grandparents in favor of English.

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Background Information

Before watching the film, all group members should read the following background information about Spanish and Chicano English . These readings provide background information about this session’s major topics. Reading them will enhance the group’s ability to discuss the ideas and questions that arise in the film.

The facilitator may also wish to have group members read one or more of the online resources listed below. Each group member can read one article and report on its content to the group.

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Discussion Questions & Activities

Pre-Viewing Questions

1. Review the key terms. Define them without consulting the glossary.

2. Based on the background information, key ideas, and key terms, what questions do you have before viewing?

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Post-Viewing Questions

South to the Border

1. English Only movement: Allan Wall says, “I think [other languages are] a threat to the linguistic unity of our nation because the English language is our common civic language.” Non-English-speaking immigrants have been coming to the U.S. throughout its history. Why do you think people fear other languages encroaching on the position of English as the dominant language in the U.S.? What role can schools play in helping to understand this concern?

2. Supermarket and newspaper editor: Newspaper editor Robert Garcia says he is used to “switching back and forth” between Spanish and English, and the clerk in the supermarket switches between Spanish and English during the course of her public announcement. What are the advantages of being able to switch between English and Spanish? Can you think of any disadvantages to switching between English and Spanish? If you have Spanish-speaking students and you teach in English, do you use their Spanish proficiency to promote learning? If so, how and why do you do it? If not, why not?

Spanglish and Chicano English

3. Patricia Lopez: Patricia Lopez says that Spanish will become the unofficial second language of the U.S. and that it’s possible to get by without speaking English. If Lopez is right, what would it mean for America? Would things change drastically? Can students get through school without speaking English?

4. Chicano boys: Carmen Fought says that it is common for speakers of Chicano English not to know how to speak Spanish. She also says that the Spanish words these speakers know are often taboo terms. In what ways is this similar to or different from the development of English slang among the students in your school? 

5. Chicano English: Fought’s research counters common stereotypes that speakers of Chicano English do not know English well. What do popular perceptions of Chicano English suggest about social attitudes? Why do you think these misconceptions persist? What role can teachers play in dispelling them?

6. Spanish in America: Fought notes that often the second generation of children born in America does not retain the home language. This is the pattern that led to the disappearance of languages such as Italian or German in the U.S. (except in a few isolated communities). Do you think that Spanish will follow this same pattern, or is it an exception to it? Why? Do you agree with Fought that “It’s Spanish that is in danger”? Why? What can schools do to help children develop proficiency in their heritage language as well as English?  If you know about heritage language programs, discuss their structure and their effects on language development.  If you know about dual language programs, in which children go to school in two languages (e.g., Spanish and English) and develop proficiency in two languages, discuss their structure and their effects. 

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Post-Viewing Activities

1. Answering Your Questions: Go back to the questions that you identified before viewing. Did you get your questions answered as you watched the video and talked about it with your colleagues? What new questions do you have?

2. Thinking About the Classroom: Refer to the key ideas in this segment. Are there any that you would like to discuss with your students? How would you introduce them to your students? High school teachers who want to consider developing lessons on the ideas raised in this segment can find more information in the DYSA curricular unit on Spanish & Chicano English .

3. Interactive Exercise: Is this person bilingual? Play audio clips for the group and try to guess whether the person you hear speaking is bilingual (speaking both Spanish and Chicano English) or monolingual (a speaker only of Chicano English). What sorts of clues did you use to make your decision? What features of the voice misled you? What assumptions did you make about the speakers when listening to and categorizing the voices? What are the implications of these assumptions for someone who speaks Chicano English? For someone who is bilingual?

4. Literary Exercise: Recently, a number of Chicano/a and Latino/a authors have included English-Spanish code-switching and/or Chicano English in their novels, which illustrate through their characters’ speech the changing role of Chicano and Spanish-speaking populations in contemporary U.S. society. The group can read the following dialogue from Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and assess the code-switching. Does the switching add to or detract from the dialogue? Does this character’s code-switching reflect a lack of proficiency in English? Is code-switching likely to occur in an exchange between a teacher and a student?  Explain.

Setting: In a conversation between Flavio and the protagonist, Flavio explains that he loves her but that the relationship cannot continue. 

“There is no other remedy. La yin y el yang (the yin and the yang), you know,” Flavio said and meant it. 

“Well, yeah,”… “I think you better go now. I gotta get my clothes out of the dryer before they get wrinkled.”

“Es cool,” Flavio said, sliding out of the booth and my life. “Ay te wacho, I guess.”

(p. 157)

At the end of the dialogue, Flavio uses the phrase “Ay te wacho,” (meaning something like, "See you later"), which may look like Spanish to monolingual English speakers. However, this phrase itself fuses English and Spanish together. Wacho is not an actual word in Spanish, but instead uses the English word watch with the Spanish ending –o. In fact, there are no words that begin with a -w in Spanish. What does this information tell you about the character Flavio? Why do you think the author chose to present this important scene in this way?

5. Research-Based exercise: Explore the Pew Hispanic center Web site , which provides statistical information about the Hispanic population. What statistics at that site do you find interesting and/or relevant to teaching in a multicultural school and classroom? On the home page, there is a link labeled LINK that leads to a list of Web sites that provide demographic information about the Hispanic population. One site of interest is the Grantmakers Concerned with Immigration and Refugees (GCIR). If group members browse these sites on their own, be sure to discuss the relevance of what they found at the next meeting.

6. English-Only Movement: Read Baron’s article “The English Only movement through the 1990s” and engage in a formal debate about the English Only movement, focusing on educational issues.

7. English-only Movement: In Baron’s article “Language Legislation and Language Abuse: American Language Policy through the 1990s,” he refers to a 1995 custody case in Texas in which a judge accused Martha Laureano of child abuse for speaking Spanish to her five-year-old daughter. If you had been Ms. Laureano’s lawyer, what arguments would you have made on her behalf? 

8. Fun Quiz on Spanish Loan Words: Take the following quiz matching common English words to the Spanish word from which it is derived. (This material can be found on the Oxford English Dictionary Web site  

1)  hurricane               a)     el legarto (the lizard) 

2)  tomato                    b)     cañon

3)  alligator                  c)      cargar (to load)

4)  lasso                       d)      huracán

5)  savvy                       e)      huiana

6)  cigar/cigarette      f)       lazo

7)  potato                     g)      mestengo + mostrenco
                                                 both mean stray, having no master)

 8)  renegade              h)       patata

 9)  stampede              i)       renegado

10) canyon                   j)       sabe/saber (to know)

11)  mustang               k)      estampido (crash, uproar)

12)  iguana                   l)       tomate

13)  cargo                    m)     cigarro

9. Fun Exercise on Spanglish Words: Have students match the English words with the Spanglish words below by applying the Spanish features provided. These Spanglish words were collected from bilingual Spanish and English speakers.



Boot (verb; i.e. boot a computer)

Check (noun)

Park (verb)


Surf (verb; i.e. surf the internet)

Spanish Features

English à Spanish

“uh” à O

“oo à U

“k” à qu

“j” à y

Verb suffix –ar

Noun suffix –e










Diversity at School: Observe and reflect on the ways in which the various language and cultural background of students contribute to the schools’ mission.

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Related Resources Spanish, Chicano English,
and Language Attitudes

The facilitator may also wish to have group members read one or more of the online resources listed below. Each group member could read one article and report on its content to the group.


Baron, D. “The legendary English-Only vote of 1795”: This article examines the circumstances under which the German language was once considered as a candidate for the national language of the United States.

Baron, D. “The English Only movement though the 1990s”: This essay examines some of the legal and social controversies related to English-only legislation.

Baron, D. “Don’t make English the official language, ban it instead”: This is a humorous look at possible outcomes of making English the official language of the U.S.

Baugh, J. “Managing language in a multicultural nation”: This article examines the current and historical roles that multiple cultures and languages have played in the U.S. 

Carter, P. “The past and present of Spanish in the United States”: Carter offers an accessible account of the history and current status of Spanish in the U.S. and a discussion of myths associated with people of Spanish-speaking heritage.

Crawford, J. “A nation divided by one language”: This article examines a political measure in California to radically change the bilingual education programs of the state.

Crawford, J. homepage: This Web site has links to essays and arguments from both sides of the English-only debate.

Fought, C. “Talking with Mi Gente”: This essay describes the social situation that has given rise to Chicano English and provides an overview of the features of Chicano English.

Fought, C. “Watch your language”: Voices can carry information that may be misinterpreted, especially if the speaker has a foreign accent.

2000 U.S. Census data: A link to the U.S. Census data includes discussion of the emerging Hispanic population.


Bayley, R., & Schecter, S. R., (Eds.) (2003). Language socialization in bilingual and multilingual societies. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

In bilingual and multilingual communities, children are socialized through language in the context of home, work, school, and peer group into particular cultural practices. The book reports research in a number of countries, including the U.S., Bolivia, Australia, Egypt, Slovakia, Canada, and India.

Crawford, J. (2000). At war with diversity: U.S. language policy in an age of anxiety. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

This volume analyzes the history of the anti-bilingual movement and its implications for bilingual education. It also highlights issues surrounding endangered Native American languages and argues for their maintenance.

Fought, C. (2002). Chicano English in context. New York: Palgrave-MacMillan.

This book shows how Latino identity is supported through Chicano English and presents sociolinguistic research on sound change, issues of bilingualism, and media portrayals of the Latino community.

Zentella, A. C. (1997). Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in New York. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

New York Puerto Ricans may need to be familiar with several varieties of English and several more of Spanish because they live in a linguistically diverse community.

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Video Key:

DVD Episode & Chapters: For DVD users, DYSA has been broken down into episodes and chapters. The term chapter is industry standard for sections or "breaks" programmed into the DVD video. A number indicating the DYSA episode will always be followed by a number indicating the DVD chapter within an episode. (i.e. 1.2 is Episode 1, Chapter 2. The numbers 1.2 appear on-screen for DVD users.) DVD users may watch a DYSA episode straight through or alternatively, jump to specific sections of the program by referring to a main menu available on the DVD.

Chapter Description
Chapter (or section) descriptions are available on-screen for DVD users only, and include a text description along side  the episode number and the chapter number within the episode (i.e. 1.2 Pronunciation in Maine). Videotape users will need to refer to printed versions of the curricular units to benefit from the chapter descriptions.

Running Time The running time indicates the length of the section of video.

Videotape (VT) Time Code Videotape users should fast forward or rewind to the corresponding number displayed in the videotape counter window in the front of the videotape playback device. (i.e. Videotape users should insert the videotape in the player and shuttle to [01:27:19] in the counter window to see the beginning of the Springville,Texas section.)

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Do You Speak American? professional development materials for educators were produced by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, DC. This material was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the Center for Applied Linguistics.


National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett


Rosalind P.

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Corporation of New York