Obama: Your kids need to speak Spanish …

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jul 10 17:28:22 UTC 2008

Obama: Your kids need to speak Spanish…
FLdoctor @ July 9, 2008 - 10:01 am

Filed under: foreign language educational policy, Language News

We've been over this ground before, and I won't belabor the point. The
comment is raising some general hysteria on the right side of the
blogosphere. It's unnecessary drama, as it's pretty apparent that his
only real point is that we should be striving for a bilingual
educational policy, but still, in context, the statement was so
mangled that it does sound awfully accomodationist.

Via Ed Morrisey: Immigrants come from around the world to live in
America. Perhaps Obama doesn't realize this, but they don't all speak
Spanish. If our children have to learn foreign languages so that
immigrants feel at home here, then we'd better plan on keeping them in
school for about 30 years.

Also, Obama's argument here makes no sense. He's complaining that
Americans don't speak the native language when we visit Europe, but
that we don't speak the immigrant language when people move to the
United States. With that argument, shouldn't we expect Europeans to
speak English when we travel there?

The sense of outrage comes mainly from the interpretation of these
comments that Obama is suggesting that Americans have more of a
responsibility as hosts to reach out to immigrants in their own
language than the immigrants do to learn English. I sincerely doubt
that that was Obama's point here, but at the same time, one gets a
sense that he would be extremely sympathetic to that position.
Ultimately, what annoys me is that Obama, like many other pols,
travels around the country offering these types of platitudes towards
instituting better foreign language education policy, but then does
nothing. These pols have been saying the same thing since the 70's
and, for the most part, FL education funding has gone steadily
downwards (and, mind you, that includes ESL education incentives too),
so you'll excuse me if I don't dance a jig over the big O's (not
Oprah) suggestion.

p.s. Also worth mentioning… I get nervous when pols start extolling
the benefits of becoming a bilingual nation. I do not want to become a
bilingual nation. Bilingual nations, by definition, are nations
composed of two or more separate "nations" (re. distinct
ethnic/cultural groups), and language policy is usually a source of
bitter struggle between the groups. Simply put, one group is always
dominant, and the other group always feels "put upon," and often this
will even lead to armed struggle. We do not want to go down that road.
What we want, and what pols should clearly express, is that the U.S.
educational system should be revamped to the point where every high
school graduate will possess high-level
listening/speaking/reading/writing skills in a language other than

This is one of the other basic flaws in the "bilingual nation" idea. I
honestly feel that we are helped by the fact that, unlike in most
countries, we have absolute freedom of choice in what language to
study. If we went the "bilingual" road, you know that the "other"
language would be Spanish, which would severely impact our advantages
in having parts of our populace studying French, German, Chinese, etc.


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