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SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Three major American television networks have been facing stiff competition for viewers from cable television and the Internet. One network that seems to be thriving without any serious competition, though, is Spanish language Univision.

Although it ranks fifth in the United States regardless of language, it came in fourth among all American adults in the February ratings sweep. Among adults 18 to 24 years old, Univision ranked first on four nights in February.

The growth of Univision, of course, reflects the increasing importance of the Spanish language. About 30 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish, which would make it the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico, Spain, Colombia and Argentina.

The rise of the Spanish-speaking population causes problems for some Americans. Several groups have been established in the last few decades ostensibly to protect the English language, but in fact they aim to reduce and eliminate immigration, whether legal or illegal.

One of the major concerns of these groups is that the expansion of Spanish in the U.S. will eventually create a bilingual country and “problems” like those in Canada. These groups believe that a country can have only one language if it is to avoid coming apart at the seams.

The fear of bilingualism is probably most evident in the number of American states that have declared English their official language. Twenty-seven states have passed such legislation. Often the vote is through the initiative process, which asks voters to essentially choose between English and Spanish. English is often chosen by 2-1 margins.

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Congress that would make English the official language of the country.

Does Spanish pose a threat to English or to the survival of the U.S. as a country? The answer, of course, is no. Although the Spanish-speaking population has increased and will continue to do so in the near future, knowledge of English among these people is also rising.

Latinos learn English at about the same rate as other immigrants. A study by State University of New York at Albany found that children of Latino immigrants show a preference for English over Spanish. By the third generation, Spanish is totally gone.

Unfortunately, that does not penetrate the popular mind, which sees the presence of services in Spanish as proof that you can do everything in Spanish in the U.S. Thus, according to “conventional” wisdom, there is no need to learn English.

However, Latinos know very well that while some services are available in Spanish, English is the key to the door of opportunities and advancement through higher education. There is no American college or university that enables you to become an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer in Spanish.

This is a significant difference from Canada. In Quebec, for example, where 80 percent of the population speaks French, you can become a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer in French.

In the U.S., English dominates business. Although smart corporations keep in mind demographics and provide services in Spanish, English is the language of commerce. English also dominates in government. It would be virtually impossible to get elected to public office without knowing English.

A study by researchers at the University of Florida found that Hispanic families speaking only Spanish had yearly incomes of less than $20,000 a year. Hispanic families speaking only English averaged yearly incomes of $32,000 while those speaking both English and Spanish had incomes of $50,376 yearly.

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