English, career advancement, and Jose Abreu

The idea that immigrants should learn English is easy to dismiss as a quasi-racist attempt to expunge foreign cultures from America. The pro-English crowd doesn’t do itself a whole ton of favors, either, even as Americans largely support the position.

Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox gets it. While some of his less-accomplished teammates might try to work on their baseball mechanics in the Arizona Fall League once the baseball season is over, Abreu wants to learn English:

“That’s my goal. I want to be a leader and I know that for that, I have to learn the language,” Abreu said through an interpreter Tuesday. “And that’s my focus for this offseason. It’s one of the things that I have on my list. I know if I can learn a little bit more of the language, I can express myself in a better way with my teammates and my coaches. It’s going to help our relationship.”

He’s already a great player, but Abreu wants more – and he understands that means understanding the country’s dominant language. That’s especially wise considering Abreu makes north of $11 million a year and is one of the up-and-coming stars of baseball, a sport which employs a high percentage of Spanish speakers as players, coaches, and managers. Abreu isn’t at a place in life where he needs to learn other people’s languages.

Yet, when Chicago’s 2015 season ends, Abreu plans to do just that – so that he can move beyond being an excellent player and become an excellent teammate as well. And when Abreu’s bat slows and his legs get achy and heavy with age, he won’t want for opportunities to stay in the game – whether as an announcer or in coaching, managing, or the front office.

Public services which cater to Spanish speakers without asking them to learn English promote the status quo. For Abreu, maybe the status quo is earning “only” $11 million annually, rather than getting a sweet franchise cornerstone-type of paycheck in the $20 million range. What about the status quo for a recent immigrant struggling to earn enough to support a family?

With his still-giant paycheck and an offseason’s worth of time to spend, Abreu has the means to take this initiative. It’s worth wondering who else might jump at a chance like this – and whether our public services do enough to nurture it.

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