MIAMI — In South Florida, where Spanish is a vital language in home life, business, culture and politics, one might expect a good report card when it comes to the quality of the Spanish being spoken. But the reality, as educators and linguists experience every day, is quite different.
"Our Spanish is atrocious," says Toni Miranda, district supervisor of bilingual education for Miami-Dade County public schools. "You only have to look at the advertisements on the streets."
A Miami furniture storefront ad she once saw quickly comes to mind.
"Aqui se venden muebles para ninos de madera," a sign boasted.
The store meant to advertise wood furniture for children, but instead, billed furniture for wooden children.
Nationally, the slaughter of Miguel Cervantes' tongue is even worse.
At the American Music Awards not too long ago, two stars of the popular sitcom Modern Family, Eric Stonestreet and Rico Rodriguez, strutted to the microphone to introduce singer and heartthrob Enrique Iglesias. The duo exchanged a few barbs then, switching to Spanish, Stonestreet delivered the last lines of the introduction: "Quiero introducir a Enrique Iglesias!"
All over the country, Spanish speakers — those who speak it properly, that is — chuckled. Stonestreet had just said he wanted to insert Iglesias into something.
"Ay," laments Spanish-language guru Gerardo Pina-Rosales, "using introducir instead of presentar is one of the most common misusages of Spanish. I have even heard a university professor do it. He was introducing a speaker and he used the Anglicism introducir. The woman behind him looked like she was ready to hit him!"
"Our children are abandoning their mother tongue when they learn English," Pina-Rosales says. "We want them to learn English, but we don't want them to abandon Spanish to be monolingual (in an era of globalization) is suicidal."
The United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico, but as the language becomes more widely used, as it interacts with the more dominant English and is casually exchanged in global forums like Facebook and Twitter, the opportunities to mangle it are spreading like a virus.
The culprits: Literal translations, Anglicisms, and the mingling of Spanish and English into the controversial hybrid, Spanglish.
People will tell you they're facebuqueando (facebooking) and tuiteando (tweeting), words that don't exist in Spanish.
It's tough, even for native speakers, to use correct Spanish when one is immersed in English language and culture all day.
Wilma Hernandez, a trilingual language lover working on her master's in the Spanish-language journalism program at Florida International University, says she sometimes finds herself using dropear, Spanglish for dropout, when she's writing or producing videos about education.
Spanish is her first language and she easily learned English after she came from Cuba in 1993 when she was 14.
"I'm guilty of speaking Spanglish sometimes, but I do it knowingly and then I stop and think of the actual word in Spanish and correct myself," Hernandez says. "It is a good exercise."
On her Facebook page she often advocates using Spanish correctly.
"A language as beautiful and romantic as ours," she posted, "should be better treated."