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#1439 – Language

We redefine some terms for you in our episode on language. We also hear about the “word gap,” why children born into poverty learn fewer words, and what’s being done to combat the gap. Spoken word artist Quique Aviles takes us on a gentrification terminology tour. We dissect political doublespeak and talk about President Obama’s lack of immigration action.  We learn about dirty words in Spanish, and we learn how one composer speaks the language of music on TV shows.

Photo by DEAF_FSL via Flickr

Bridging the Word Gap

In a room bursting with pretty dolls and pink stuffed animals, Barbara Bermudo sits with her two daughters. Bermudo is an anchor at Univision’s news program Primer Impacto. In this public service announcement she’s encouraging parents to take at least 15 minutes a day to talk, sing, or read to their children – in any language.

It’s part of an effort to close the word gap. What is the word gap?

“By the end of the age of three, children who are born into poverty will have heard 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers,” says Dr. Dana Suskind.

Dr. Dana Suskind is the director of the Thirty Million Words initiative – an education and research program out of Chicago.

“And this had nothing to do with race or ethnicity. This is really socioeconomic status which is education and income.”

The moment a baby is born their brain is already beginning to develop. That is why these early language interactions are so crucial. Scientists can actually measure the word gap or the number of words spoken at home. They use a little device called the LENA which stands for language environment analysis.

The LENA is about the size of a credit card. Babies wear it at chest level. Not only does it count or record words, it can also analyze what it records. The LENA is able to differentiate all the different kinds of sounds that are heard in a baby’s environment. One way to think of the LENA is that it’s like a language pedometer.

“So just like a regular pedometer counts the number of steps you take in a day the LENA counts the number of words a child is exposed to and how many conversations they have with their caregiver or parent,” Suskind says.

It’s not just the number of words spoken to babies but the quality of words spoken. Dr. Adriana Weisleder, a developmental psychologist who is an associate project director and co-investigator at the BELLE project says that, “in some families a lot of the speech to children is what they called business talk. The function of the speech is to get the child to do something right so they’re commands or imperatives. That happens in all families. It has to happen, right? Parents have to get their kids to do things. But when a high proportion of the speech that children hear is composed of those kinds of business talk or imperatives then that means they’re not getting a lot of the other rich talk and conversation.”

Still a device like the LENA can’t close the word gap all by itself.

“Just like a pedometer will not change the obesity and health crisis in the country, we can’t put everything on a piece of technology,” Suskind says.

One way Dr. Suskind’s Thirty Million Words initiative tries to close to gap is by actually going into homes. On top of going over the results from lena recordings – Thirty Million Words has created a curriculum for parents. It includes videos modeling ways caregivers should talk to their baby.

Families that speak more than one language at home can face a special challenge: what language should they speak to their kids in?

“It’s not just a moral and right thing, but the science is clear that parents and caregivers should be talking and interacting with their children in their native language. It does no good to be speaking in a language you don’t feel comfortable with,” Suskind says.

“Having a higher vocabulary even if it’s in Spanish still makes kids be more prepared for school.” Weisleder says.

Why is that? talking a lot to your child is about more than just teaching them words – it’s helping them understand basic concepts.

”If you know in spanish the words for horse and dog and house and barn. You know those words in spanish but you also know a lot of relationships between those things. You know that dogs and horses are animals and that a lot of dogs live in houses and horses might live in barns, lots of the different things.”

Bridging the word gap is not about getting babies ready to read Don Quixote by the age of four – it’s about setting up the building blocks so that children can be ready learn more easily once they get to school.



Dealing with Doublespeak

Ronald Reagan did it. So did George H.W. Bush. And President Obama promised action on immigration reform in June, but nothing’s materialized. Maria Hinojosa talks to Buzzfeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo about what political double-speak means for immigration policy, your thoughts on the matter, and the potential impact on Latino voters.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Staff via Getty Images

Adrian_C Adrian Carrasquillo is the editor of Latino coverage at BuzzFeed, the social news and entertainment company. The idea of growing Latino coverage at BuzzFeed is to tell important stories on a powerful national platform that aren’t being told without pandering to the U.S. Latino audience or segregating the content into a separate section. Latino is mainstream and Latino is American and it’s about time the media reflected that. He also is a reporter covering immigration, race and Latino culture. Previously, he helped launch NBC Latino at NBC News, where he managed social media and was a reporter.


Words from the Gentrifying Hood

Quique Aviles arrived in Washington D.C. in 1980, at the age of fifteen, escaping death squads in the Salvadoran civil war. His family settled in Columbia Heights, a then mostly black neighborhood in northwest D.C. that became impoverished in the 1970s. In the last few years, Columbia Heights has gentrified, partly because of city-led efforts to redevelop the neighborhood.

“People have tried to rehabilitate us by teaching us to serve them really well. People try to rehabilitate us from our addictions.

Rehabilitate us from our habits from our old countries.

Rehabilitate our housing so we can be put out.

And rehabilitate us through an educational system that teaches us to dislike ourselves.

I’m Quique Aviles and this is the language that surrounds me.”

-Quique Aviles

Aviles no longer lives in Columbia Heights. But in this segment, he walks through his old neighborhood with producer David Schulman, and improvises a few verses on how it’s all changed.
Check out other Quique Aviles poems, “My tongue is divided into two” and “The Immigrant Museum.”

tib-avilesq-22871-200Quique Aviles is a poet and performer whose work addresses social issues. A native of El Salvador and a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Quique has been writing and performing in the US for over 20 years. His poetry has been featured on NPR’s “Latino USA” and on subway posters through Washington’s “Metro Muse.” A 1991 recipient of the Washington, DC Mayor’s Arts Awards, he is founder and artistic director of Sol & Soul.





The Seven Dirty Words of Spanish

“There are some words, not many, just a few — that we decided, we won’t use them all the time,” said the late comedian George Carlin in his famous routine about the “seven dirty words.” If you aren’t familiar with it—the skit tries to pinpoint a definitive list of words you can never say on radio and television.

Ironically enough, Carlin’s list of naughty words has since become more-or-less the industry standard of what you can’t say on the radio. It made us wonder—what can’t you say in Spanish on the radio? Nobody ever made a list for us!

To help us figure it out, we invited Mexican-American comedian Felipe Esparza to come and talk with us about the joys and pitfalls of cussing in en español. We also speak with NPR Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott. And, a conversation with Jessica Gonzalez from the National Hispanic Media Coalition about how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to enforce the same standards in Spanish-language media as in English-language media.

Photo by Jonathan Bruck via Flickr. 


Felipe Esparza is a comedian and actor, best known for his raw, real-life comedy that audiences everywhere can relate to Felipe won NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2010, and soon after, starred in his first one-hour Showtime special, and now he is touring comedy clubs and theaters across the world and working on a new one-hour special. He is the host of the podcast “What’s Up Fool?”, available on the All Things Comedy podcast network.




Mark Memmott Mark Memmott is NPR’s supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he’s a resource for NPR’s journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization’s standards. Prior to joining NPR, Memmott worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor at USAToday. He focused on a range of coverage from politics, foreign affairs, economics, and the media. He reported from places across the United States and the world, including half a dozen trips to Afghanistan in 2002-2003.




Jessica J. Gonzalez.jpg

Jessica oversees all NHMC operations from headquarters in Pasadena, California. In her former role, Jessica ran NHMC’s Washington, D.C. office, leading NHMC’s legal and policy work  to advance federal policies that increase Latino inclusion in media and ensure universal, open and affordable communications services. She has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The Language of Music… On TV

We dive into the world of TV music composing with Juan Carlos Rodriguez. Rodriguez started composing on telenovelas and since has moved on to work on popular shows like East Los High and El Rey’s Matador. We ask him to explain the language of TV music.


Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Re-defining the way we Describe Ourselves

With demographic changes not just on the horizon, but already here, the U.S. needs to re-examine the way it thinks. And a lot of that has to do with the words we use and how we use them. Guy Garcia joined us with some food for thought on the words “multicultural,” “minority,” and “diversity.”

guygarcia 2 Guy Garcia is a former Time magazine staff writer and contributor to the New York Times, and the author of The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer is Transforming American Business and other books. He’s currently President of New Mainstream Initiatives at Ethnifacts.


This Week’s Captions: Language

We redefine some terms for you in our episode on language. We also hear about the “word gap,” why children born into poverty learn fewer words, and what’s being done to combat the gap. Spoken word artist Quique Aviles takes us on a gentrification terminology tour. We dissect political doublespeak and talk about President Obama’s lack of immigration action.  We learn about dirty words in Spanish, and we learn how one composer speaks the language of music on TV shows.


Latino USA, the foremost Latino voice in public media and the longest running Latino-focused program on radio, is the first radio program to commence equal-access distribution via Captioning for Radio. “Research has shown that Latino children have a higher incidence of hearing loss and deafness than other populations,” according to Latino USA’s Anchor & Executive Producer Maria Hinojosa. “When the opportunity to break this sound barrier came to our attention, we were pleased to embrace this new technology developed by NPR Labs and Towson University for the thousands of Latinos with serious hearing loss.”
The International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART), a strategic alliance between NPR and Towson University, is co-directed by Mike Starling of NPR and Ellyn Sheffield of Towson University.
For each week’s captioning, check back on


#1438 – Allies

What does it mean to be a good ally? Latino USA asks black leaders from Miami, trying to prevent a crisis similar to that of Ferguson, Missouri’s. We hear about former inmates returning to the Bronx to prevent violence. A rabbi teams up with Latino food workers to ensure they’re well treated. Boston neighbors fight for affordable housing. We learn about how the U.S. tries to create allies through texting programs in Cuba (and why it hasn’t worked). Our white producers fill us in on how they feel about working in a Latino newsroom. We revisit the Colorado floods, one year later. And one woman brings together two of the most important influences in her life: Mexican culture and…Star Trek.


Photo by Julia Taylor via Flickr

After Ferguson: Being Black In Miami

The killing of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, M0. has reignited the spirit of the civil rights movement in the African American communities around the nation. While protests regarding Brown’s case continue in Missouri, his death has also reopened a long overdue conversation about the policing of black communities.

Miami-Dade County has not been the exception. The county in South Florida is predominantly Latino — Hispanics make up 65% of the population, blacks are just over 20%. The county’s mayors have been consistently Hispanic since the late seventies. And Hispanics make up a majority of the County’s Board of Commissioners.

On September 3rd, 2014, Dennis Moss, one of the county’s four black commissioners, opened the County Hall floor to a discussion about the lessons that Miami could learn to prevent events like Ferguson in Miami-Dade County.

The Commissioner and other members of the black leadership spoke of the feeling of hopelessness in the city’s black communities. They spoke of language discrimination in job applications — you have to speak Spanish for jobs– lack of access to private and public contracts, and opened a frank discussion about the policing of African American communities, especially black males.

The police department in Miami-Dade county is sharply different to the one in Ferguson. Miami-Dade’s police force reflects the different population groups, including Hispanics, blacks and other groups. Still, black leaders continue to sensitize police forces of every race on how blacks, especially men, experience police encounters.

City officials like Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Gimenez took part in the conversation, and all parties were glad the conversation happened in the open.

For this segment, we ask Dr. Walter T. Richardson, senior chaplain of the Miami-Dade Police Department, and Retha Boone-Fye, head of the Black Affairs Advisory Board in the county, about the conditions of African Americans in a place that is predominantly Latino/Hispanic.


Dr Richardson

Dr. Walter Thomas Richardson, a Miami native, is the senior chaplain for the Miami-Dade Police Department and Senior Pastor at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Perrine, Florida. Dr. Richardson currently serves as adjunct professor of religion at St. Thomas University where he teaches “World Religions.”





Retha BooneRetha Boone-FyeRetha Boone-Fye is the director of the Miami-Dade County Black Advisory Board. She previously served as Public Affairs Director for South Florida’s only Historically Black University—Florida Memorial.  She has been recognized by InFocus Magazine’s “Quiet Storm Award”; was named one of South Florida’s “Most Distinguished and Influential Black Women for 2010” by Success Magazine and was recently honored by ICABA World as one of South Florida’s “Most accomplished Black Professionals for 2011.”  She’s the second generation daughter of Bahamian parents and Jamaican great-grandparents. Mrs. Boone-Fye was the first of her immigrant family to attend university and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and her graduate degree from Nova-Southeastern University.




Latino USA intern Julia Shu contributed reporting.

Photo of gathering in front of Government Center in Miami on December 1st, 2000. Photo by Robert King/Newsmakers via Getty Images. 


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