Barack Obama – your children should learn to speak Spanish
Obama is telling us that we need to learn other languages. He’s embarrassed for us. I for one could care less what Barack Obama thinks; I’m doing perfectly well only speaking one language. I’m getting tired of this man looking down his nose at me. How do you say, “I wanna cut his nuts off” in Spanish? OK that’s all for now, the spell check says that all my English words are spelled properly, except Barack and Obama, are these some of them foreign words that he wants me to learn? What does he have against Mandarin? Is Barack Obama being dim or deliberately obtuse? He started out the other day telling a crowd that “English-only” laws were bad, then went on to say immigrants should learn English, then said, “You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish!” First: Of course it’s better if Americans learn to speak some language other than English, generally. The more knowledge, the better, right? Which is why it’s heartening to learn that more American students are learning foreign languages than in past years, and that the trend line has been up for years. Most high school grads have taken at least some instruction in a language other than English; more than two-thirds have taken at least two years.
Also, immigrants are learning English, mainly, says research. The whole point on “English only” — laws that have nothing whatsoever to do with barring Americans from learning other languages or even from running radio stations or magazines or stores or what have you in them — is that when it comes to governments, our authorities will not guarantee that they’ll communicate with you on a permanent basis in some language other than English. They generally don’t bar the fire department from seeing to it someone can speak Spanish, for convenience; rather, they stop authorities from granting it something like official status.
That is, “English only” is about stopping governments from solicitously reducing the pressure on immigrants to learn our common language. Such permanent and ongoing official bilingualism, as experts will point out, isn’t so much about making sure everyone’s multilingual as enabling people to be monolingual in different languages — “two solitudes,” as Hugh MacLennan said of Canada or, as other commentators warn, an inherently inegalitarian society. But the final bit, where Obama says our kids should learn Spanish, is the clinchers. One asks: Why? As Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell points out, the Europeans among whom Obama’s so embarrassed “need to learn foreign languages because they live much closer to one another, are more integrated economically, and come from smaller countries. If you’re a young Swede, for instance, you need to learn English to be employable.” Whereas here, where a 50-mile drive doesn’t take you away from the service territory of your native language (as it does in, say, Belgium), “acquiring working-level fluency in a second or third language is expensive and time consuming, and often the potential payoff isn’t worth it. My seven years of French has never been very useful, frankly, and I might have been better served learning more about microbiology or fluid dynamics.”