The Spectacle Blog

Obama’s Broken English First

By on 7.9.08 | 11:23AM

Via Jim Geraghty, I see Barack Obama has argued against official English initiatives by pointing to the benefits of people being multilingual in a global economy:

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.

Well, aside from the obvious differences between multinational, multilingual Europe and the continental United States that might explain why the ability to speak more than one language is more common in the former than the latter, and aside from the liberal condescension, there is this blindingly obvious point: Official English initiatives have never been about eliminating all foreign-language instruction in American schools -- that is, getting rid of French and Spanish class. It has been about whether immigrants and their children will receive bilingual education or primarily learn English, by immersion or other methods. It has also been about maintaining English as the official language of government. But it has nothing to do with the points Obama is raising here.

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