With 53 million Hispanics living in the United States, Spanish is the second-most-important language in the country and the growth of the Latino population will continue fostering its use as part of the national culture, politics and economy.

Census figures predict that by 2060 one in every three Americans will be of Latino origin, while in California and New Mexico these statistics are already a reality among young people.

But despite the fact that many young people from Latino families learned to speak Spanish at home, the great majority of them are not bilingual.

This situation concerns experts like Silvia Cubillos Velez, the Colombian-born founder of the Spanish Is Fun school in Denver.

"I think there's going to be 70 percent of the children of Latino parents who are going to have the wrong idea that they're bilingual," she said. "If you listen and understand, you have comprehension, but that doesn't mean that you speak the language. And if you speak it that doesn't mean that you understand it and if you read it that doesn't mean that you write it."

Cubillos Velez, the creator of a new learning system, Brain Path Language, said that bilingual people must have a certain mastery of two languages - in this case Spanish and English - and that just speaking them is not enough.

Writing, reading and comprehension are integral parts of learning a language, she said.

There is not the slightest doubt that the benefits of mastering Spanish and English in the United States are many, and they include better work opportunities.

Eric Alfaro, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, took advantage of his bilingual abilities.

Alfaro - born in Fresno, California, to Mexican parents - said that among his three siblings he is the only one with mastery over Spanish.

Now 26, he learned the language of his parents and took Spanish classes in high school to learn to write and read adequately.

"Being bilingual opened many doors for me," he said. "The majority of people in California are going to be Latino and I know that in whatever part of the state I go to I'm going to be able to communicate with anybody. If they don't speak English, probably they speak Spanish," he said. EFE