Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Obama on Language

In today's world it just makes sense to be able to speak more than one language--no question about it. Here's Obama at a townhall meeting in Georgia yesterday:

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.


Okay--I don't think we need to have English declared as our National Language (whatever that would mean); I also agree that immigrants should and probably do learn English. But you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish? Why Spanish? Why not Chinese--the third most commonly spoken foreign language in the US? It's pretty obvious to me that the Chinese will be playing a much more major role in economic affairs in the future than any of our Latin American neighbors.

According to the Census Bureau, of the 20 non-English languages spoken most widely at home, the largest proportional increase in the 1990s was (drum roll, please)-- Russian! (Way cool!) Speakers of this language nearly tripled, from 242,000 to 706,000. (I am trying my darndest to increase that number to 706,001.) The second largest increase was among French Creole speakers (including Haitian Creoles), whose numbers more than doubled, from 188,000 to 453,000.

Perhaps learning to hable espanol may be politically expedient, but a little short-sighted.

It's this next bit that has most people disturbed:

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?


Stoopid, embarassing Americans, clinging to their guns and their religion. Is there any stereotype about Americans that Obama doesn't subscribe to? We're just a bunch of loud-mouthed, arrogant, English-spouting rubes, stumbling through the flowerbeds, yanking on the tapestries, right? How 'bout those French? A lot of people hoped that Obama was beyond this sort of cliched thinking, you know, about "typical white people."

I'm pretty sure that if I found myself stranded on some backroad in Greece or Alsace-Lorraine, I would not be surrounded by smiling locals cheerfully quoting Keats and Dickens. And I am sure that some tourists here are often surprised that sometimes us provincials can understand their "furriner talk" purty good. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, nearly one-third of students in grades 7-12 are taking a foreign language; not great, could be better, but not exactly the picture of xenophobic Neanderthals that Obama seems embarassed by.

In the immortal words of Senora Obama:

Usted sabe, esta conversación no ayuda mis niños.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure was offended by what Obambi said (as I wasn't immediately sure learning another language was such a terrible thing), until I was informed by the "conservatives" that what he was really saying was he hates America (again!). I'm glad they all caught that, because sometimes I miss things. But I think I understand now: if it was good enough for Jesus, the Founding Fathers and Chuck Norris, it's good enough for me -- speak American or go back to where you came from!

Small Town Doc said...

No one said learning another language is a bad thing. Where did you see that?

Who said Obama hates America? He's embarassed by Americans, and his wife isn't too proud of us either. Is he actually proud of his country? Has he ever said so consistently?

English, like it or not, is the world's universal language today. English has been our unofficial language in this country for over 200 years. This single language is one of the things that unites the diverse peoples of this country. If I decide to go study or work in a foreign country, I KNOW that I am going to have to learn how to speak their language; how many bilingual ballots do you think there are in, say, Sweden? If you come here, it is expected that you should learn to speak the predominant language of our culture. What's so wrong with that?

Petronia said...

"loud-mouthed, arrogant, English-spouting rubes, stumbling through the flowerbeds, yanking on the tapestries"...Well, hard to deny the stereotype when you spend some time in Europe and realize that you can spot an American from a mile away. But nonetheless it IS a stereotype. I sure hope I don't fit the description! :)

I did not know that English is not the official language! That's interesting.

ltnbrn said...

Have to agree with Petronia: having done quite a bit of traveling overseas...we were always embarrassed to associate with fellow Americans.

We ARE loud-mouthed and arrogant.

My husband and I would pretend we were Canadians when possible. :)