Obama on bilingualism

Salon.com has excerpts from a Q&A Barack Obama did with supporters in Powder Springs, GA on Tuesday.  On the question of bilingualism, here’s what he had to say: 

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.

Ed Morrissey responds:

Also, Obama’s argument here makes no sense.  He’s complaining that Americans don’t speak the native language when we visit Europe, but that we don’t speak the immigrant language when people move to the United States.  With that argument, shouldn’t we expect Europeans to speak English when we travel there?

I agree that everyone should learn a foreign language.  I spoke French for a while, and I know a little Spanish from growing up in Southern California, and I studied Irish for several years.  The study of foreign language not only broadens one’s cultural perspective, but it also helps in understanding one’s native tongue.  However, to argue that Americans should learn Spanish as a higher priority than insisting that immigrants learn English is nonsense, and Obama’s argument for it is a giant non-sequitur.  It carries a strong whiff of America-bashing, too.

In light of this news, Tom Maguire weighs in with some important questions for Obama:

LEFT UNREPORTED:  How many languages does Barack speak?  And how are his kids (ages 10 and 7) doing with their Spanish, or do they also embarrass him as the rest of us rubes do?  I’d hate to think this is one more “do as I say” scenario similar to Barack’s no-smoking aspiration.

Obama’s often described certain criticisms leveled at him as indications that the “silly season” of the presidential election campaign has arrived.  I disagree.  The “silly season” started the moment he started riding the fence on a number of core issues he pledged to his supporters that he would stand firm on, which as we know by now turned out to be a load of you-know-what, and it continues with silly stances on issues like English-only and bilingualism.  This is nothing more than a shameless attempt at catering to the Hispanic community, a group of people both he and John McCain desperately want to win over before the general election.

What’s the Spanish word for “pandering,” Senator Obama?  Surely you’d know more so than us uncultured saps, right? Or maybe not (scroll – h/t: Jim Geraghty).

Update – 10:40 AM: Dana Milbank and I are on the same page about something?  Forget the “silly season” – the scary season in politics has arrived!

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