Schwartzenegger in agua caliente

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jun 22 12:05:54 UTC 2007

English is language of success

SAN DIEGO Ruben Navarette, Jr.

Now this is what I call a communications gap. Whenever California Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to talk about Latinos and language, he winds
up in agua caliente. During an appearance last week before the annual
conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists,
Schwarzenegger suggested one way to improve the dismal test results of
students with limited proficiency in English was to "turn off the Spanish
television set." The comments prompted gasps and groans from the crowd,
which had a large contingent of journalists working for Spanish-language
networks who would just as soon people not turn off Spanish television.

It brought to mind what happened last year during a campaign stop in Los
Angeles' Chinatown when Schwarzenegger lectured Mexicans on how to succeed
in this country. The secret, he said at the time, was "that you learn the
language . . . and you have to become part of America." He insisted "that
is very difficult . . . for Mexicans (who) . . . try to stay Mexican, but
try to be in America." I thought those comments were out of line and said
so to Schwarzenegger during a meeting a few days later. In a tone that
some would consider disrespectful, I explained to the governor that
Hispanics have been in the Southwest for generations, that they have
assimilated and that they didn't need advice on doing so from "someone who
got here yesterday." And yet, I feel differently about what the governor
had to say last week about how students who want to learn English should
start by switching off Spanish-language television. About that, he's
absolutely right. I've heard others say the same thing over the years. In
fact, I recently heard from a Hispanic woman who said that when she came
to this country, she made beds in hotels, and that while working, she made
a point of turning on the television and setting it to an English-language
channel.  That's how she began to learn English, she said.

English only

What helped sell me was listening to the governor recall his immigrant
experience. Schwarzenegger explained to the journalists that when he came
to the United States from Austria, he rarely spoke German and that he
learned English "through immersion and just really sitting in front of the
television set" even though at first he didn't understand a word being
said. He also read English-language newspapers, he said, along with comic
books and anything else he could get his hands on. If only we could say
the same for Latino kids who get stuck in bilingual education programs
indefinitely because it's good for the school and for administrators, even
if it isn't good for the students. These programs survive thanks to
liberals, who quickly seized on Schwarzenegger's remarks and tried to
exploit them as another reason to vote Democratic. Then there was the
response from former state treasurer and failed 2006 Democratic
gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, who said the governor's remarks
"displayed a troubling ignorance about our state's diversity and
strength." The governor, Angelides said, "should give them a hand up, not
a slap down."

What in the world is he talking about? If you want to give people a hand
up, you start by treating them as grown-ups, giving them lots of straight
talk and expecting no less from them than you would from yourself. People
will pick up English if they're immersed, and if they have no choice but
to learn it. When we set up industries such as native language education
or Spanish-language television, we create linguistic cocoons that offer
the comfort of a warm bath when what English-learners really need is a
cold shower.

The writer is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego
Union Tribune. Contact him at ruben.navarrette at Published:
June 22. 2007 3:10AM

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