Fausta's blog

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The official blog of Fausta's Blog Talk Radio show.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bilingualism and Obama

Obama was saying,
You know, I don't understand when people are going around worrying about, "We need to have English - only." They want to pass a law, "We want English-only."

Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], "Merci beaucoup." Right?

You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get ajob. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they're 5, or 6, or 7 than when they're 46, like me.
Obama does pronounce Spanish very clearly when he does his political ads. He also does it for a political purpose. His thought that Americans should make their children bilingual in Spanish panders to "Hispanics" who are not interested in assimilating, but makes no sense vis-a-vis the argument that doing so would keep Americans from embarrassment when traveling in Europe: only a small number of Europeans speak Castillian (including, increasingly, non-Castillians born and raised in Spain). May I remind Obama that what we call Spanish in the USA is Castillian in Spain?

Andrew Leonard thinks that
There's nothing particularly exceptional about Obama's position, unless you are an English-only partisan cowering in fear of your cultural identity being swamped by funny-looking people from strange lands. Or one of the similarly insecure patriots who believe any criticism of the U.S. is a sign of "blame-America-first" treachery. And I suppose the whole comment about "going to Europe" opens Obama up to more charges of elitism, and disconnection from the lives of those who, right now, can't afford to even think about going to Europe.
Leonard clearly ignored people like myself, who are fully bilingual in Spanish, and who also can read French and a little Portuguese. Some of us are "Hispanic" (which, as I've said before is a term I use for expediency), many of us are not. I have met thousands of Americans born and raised in the USA who are multilingual.

People like myself are not "cowering in fear of your cultural identity being swamped by funny-looking people from strange lands." For starters, even when we come from "strange lands", we are not "funny-looking people". Indeed, people like me are fully integrated Americans and look like everyone else, i.e., unfunny.

What we fear is not that our "cultural identity" may or may not be "swamped", because we are secure in our cultural identity; What we worry about is that new immigrants (documented or not) who hadn't had a quality education in their countries of origin would deny themselves the opportunities our great country offers by not wanting to learn English and limit themselves to regions of the country where only their native tongue is spoken. The best paid professions in the world rely on English as their common language. India has become a dynamic economy because English-speaking jobs get outsourced to India. People how aren't willing to learn English (and I mean standard, proper, grammatically correct English) are sentencing themselves to a lifetime of poorly-paid jobs and missed opportunities.

Additionally, every country with an official second language is permanently divided. While the teaching of foreign languages (in plural - considering China's ascendancy in the global scene, Mandarin comes in handy) should be compulsory in every school in our country, English is and should remain America's language. All the original documents that created this nation should be read in the original English to be fully understood.

Which brings me to Victor Davis Hanson: his experience mirrors mine when it comes to multi-lingual America,
I was watching Obama complain that we don't speak European languages while Europeans speak English fluently. Fair enough—though the vast size of the US, the presence of two oceans on our borders, the ubiquity of Spanish here, the knowledge of other languages by millions of Americans, both explain a lot, and belie the notion that we are all English-only speakers, while the multitude of nations in close proximity has historically made Europeans by necessity multi-lingual.
Hanson, a university professor, adds the educational angle:
But that said, Obama's previous idealization of minority-theme charter schools and the need for more "oppression studies" are precisely the sorts of therapeutic curricula that ensure Americans are not getting classical instruction in languages and literatures. We still await his visit to an inner-city school where he might lecture the student body and faculty that more Latin, French, math, and Shakespeare would do more to make students competitive in an increasingly tough, global job market than thousands of hours of oppression studies and victimization classes.
Obama is wrong in believing that "Immigrants will learn English" on their own well enough to meet the challenges of any well-paid profession. Immigrants need to learn the structure, grammar, syntax and pronunciation of proper English. I know this from my own personal experience. Additionally, when it comes to the instruction of foreign languages in schools, the more classroom hours you dedicate to "self-esteem" oriented or victimization studies, the fewer hours you'll have for rigorous academic curricula of any kind, foreign languages included.

And that's not the way to favorably impress the Europeans, or anyone. TigerHawk has more on that.


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At 4:44 PM, Blogger zoey said...

hi fausta!

a standing O for this post. i am going to link it. thanks for going into such detail and for talking from personal experience.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger SWWBO said...

John and I were on a long driving trip out West a few years back. We saw more Germans and French than Americans visiting the National Monuments than Americans in the heat of the summer. John speaks German, being an Army brat born in Germany and spending many years there.

John spent a lot of time translating from German to English for many, many European tourists to help them purchase things from shops or to order in restaurants.

I don't know why Obama has the mistaken idea that ALL Europeans can speak English.

To me it is simply further proof that Obama is just too ignorant of too many things to be President of the greatest country on Earth.


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