According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, speaking English as a second language makes you fat.
Bilingualism was once considered a leading cause of mental retardation. American psychologists in the early twentieth century argued that filling up a child’s brain with a useless immigrant language like Italian or Yiddish meant less room for actual knowledge. They also found a strong correlation between speaking two languages and criminal behavior. Their solution was simple: switch to English, leave the language of crime and ignorance behind, become 100% American, and don’t look back.
Half a century later scholars finally realized that the real culprit wasn’t language, but poverty. Today the scientific community views bilingualism more positively. Neurologists have found evidence that speaking a second language might increase brain size and stave off dementia, and economists point to the benefits of knowing more than one language in a global economy.
But now doctors studying children enrolled in Head Start programs in southern Minnesota have concluded that being Mexican and speaking English as a second language are both independent predictors of childhood obesity. Immigration reformers, quick to label Spanish as the language of the ghetto, are likely to eat this news up.
In his diatribe against Spanish speakers in the US, Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington warns that there is no “Americano dream,” only an American dream, a dream that can only be realized by embracing America’s white, Protestant, monolingual English heritage. Making English our official language, some suggest, is a way of ensuring that those immigrants we allow to remain in the country give up the language they brought with them and learn to read the Declaration of Independence and the King James Bible in the original. Plus, if English as a second language makes you fat, then just make English your first language and watch the pounds melt away.
Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich agrees. He’s called for official English laws, English-only ballots, and an end to bilingual education, all in order to force nonanglophones to learn English. But to ensure that he still gets some votes from the Latino community, Gingrich is also taking Spanish lessons. If the Mayo researchers are right, acquiring a second language can’t be good for his waistline.
Americans are already dangerously overweight. The Centers for Disease Control report that one third of American adults and 17% of our children and teenagers are obese. Still more are at risk for obesity. Adding English to our steady diet of junk food and our sedentary lifestyle can only make things worse for immigrants.
With a vocabulary of half a million words, a spelling system bordering on chaos, a grammatical structure bent on combining the worst of German and Latin, and an ever-changing set of idioms and jargon calculated to daunt the most committed language learner, English is definitely a high-calorie language. Filling your brain with English could definitely clog your arteries, and sitting in a classroom studying English is anything but aerobic. English speakers who add Spanish, Chinese, Korean, French, or any language whose cuisine doesn’t depend heavily on burgers and fries may also be at risk.
This French YouTube video observes that the Japanese eat little fat, while the French eat lots of fat; Indians drink almost no red wine, while the Spanish drink lots of wine; and Brazilians have lots more sex than Algerians; nevertheless, the heart attack rate in all these countries is less than that of the U. S. Conclusion? Drink as much as you want; eat as much as you want; have as much sex as you want. What will kill you is speaking English. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YfrqvUzHxc
But before we blame bilingualism again, before we put a Surgeon General’s warning on our English textbooks, before we stamp out foreign language in America in the interests of reducing the national body-mass index, there’s another possibility that the Mayo Clinic researchers might want to explore: the possibility that children enrolled in Head Start programs are poor – they have to be to qualify for the program – and that poverty itself can be a major predictor of obesity.
Reducing poverty could give us a head start on slimming down the nation. That could still leave us a country full of junk food addicts and couch potatoes, but as long as they're sitting on the couch munching away, maybe we could also convince Americans, whatever language they may speak, to exercise their brains by learning a second language. Maybe they could even start learning it on TV. They might get a little smarter in the process. And thinner, as well: research shows that thinking burns calories -- and the brain uses up to 50% more calories when it's learning something really hard, like a new language.