Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama and English

In a recent speech, Barack Obama talked about language. He started out criticizing the people who stress the importance of English in America then went on to rag on Americans as a whole for being ignorant.

On the movement to make English the official language, he said,
I don't understand when people are going around worrying about, we need to have English only. They want to pass a law, we just, we want English only. Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English, I agree with this. 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.

Obama is either ignorant or playing dumb. If immigrants were learning English then we would not be having this conversation. In fact only around half of legal Spanish-speaking immigrants speak English well. Among the illegal immigrants, the percentage is much lower. This should be self-evident. Why would America have bi-lingual choices for nearly everything, even Spanish ballots, if the immigrants were learning English?

This leads into the reason that it is important for immigrants to learn English. Those who do not are creating a permanent under-class. They are cutting themselves off from the better jobs and education. Our country has been an enabler for this and it needs to stop. Consider this a form of tough-love. That is what the English only movement is all about.

Obama's suggestion that English-speaking children should be taught Spanish instead further enables immigrants who are not learning English.

If you want further proof, look at other bi-lingual countries. Canada's French population has come close to splitting and forming their own country. Belgium is having the same problem. Within a generation we could easily see some of our southern states wanting to secede from the USA and join Mexico.

Obama then continued:
We should have every child speaking more than one language. 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 beacoup, right?

This is not a surprising sentiment coming from a noted internationalist. He was probably taught it by his mother who spent most of her adult life living outside the US. Regardless, it is still insulting.

The implication is that Europeans are better than us because they all speak English but we can't speak their languages. This raises the question, which language should we speak if we want to communicate with the largest number of foreigners living outside the US? The answer is English and we already know that.

It would probably amaze Obama to learn that only 15% of English speakers speak it as their first language. Most of the world uses English to communicate. India, for example, has so many dialects that the only language that most Indians have in common is English. China has the same problem and is rapidly beginning to use English as the solution. The same is true for much of Africa.

This is not true of German. It was once true of French but those days are long gone.

Also, Europeans know several languages because Europe is full of languages. I can drive from Columbus to Obama's home in Chicago and speak with the local populous. A similar trip in Europe would land me in a different country with a different language.

Obama is probably counting on his comments to win him votes among Spanish-speaking voters (once he has been translated). This may help his campaign but it will hurt the country.

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