Daily Archives: July 14, 2008

Obama's Language Problem

You may have noticed that Barack Obama, heralded last year as perhaps the greatest orator since Patrick Henry, suddenly becomes a bumbling, vacillating, unfocused stutterer when attempting to speak extemporaneously. It turns out he is an expert reader, and a master of the teleprompter when delivering the thoughts of speechwriters but has a difficult time organizing and delivering his own thoughts.

Last week, Obama gave a speech at a high school in Powder Springs, Georgia where he demonstrated both his rhetorical skill and his ability to “think on his feet”. In the speech, liberally punctuated with “uhhs”, “aahs”, and pauses while he mentally groped for cogent thoughts, he said:

“We live in a global economy. And, 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…”

“…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.'”

When Obama is speaking without a teleprompter, he displays an astounding naiveté for someone who aspires to the highest office in the land and the most powerful position on earth. It’s a little like someone who works on an assembly line at General Motors for six months and believes he is then qualified to be the CEO.

When he says that he does not understand people who call for “English only”, he probably speaks the truth. However, the reason he does not understand them is because he does not understand America. America is an English speaking country. For that reason, anyone desiring to immigrate to America should learn English. There are a number of practical reasons for this, and they are not xenophobic.

Foremost among them is the fact that English is the language of commerce. In order to engage successfully in the “pursuit of happiness” in America it is important to speak English. Very few people advocate “English only” except for public schools and government business. It is to a person’s advantage to speak as many languages as they may have the opportunity to learn. It is also a good idea for children to be encouraged to learn a language other than their own, if for no other reason than that it is good exercise for the brain.

However, to place hurdles in the way of immigrant children in America through politically correct programs of bi-lingual education is nothing short of criminal. Historically, when new immigrant families came to America their children attended public schools where they learned English by “immersion“. In most cases, the children learned English before their parents and were instrumental in teaching their parents English. That system was not only good for the immigrant children and the country it was helpful to the whole family and even strengthened family ties.

Over the years, millions of immigrants from all parts of the world have leaned English from their children. Many were so eager to become “Americans” that they spoke only English, even in the privacy of their own home. That spirit of assimilation is not being encouraged today, instead, immigrants are being encouraged to keep the language and culture of their homeland and we are being told to change our customs to accommodate theirs. The result is ethnic resentment, distrust and division.

When Obama calls for a bi-lingual America and singles out Spanish as the second language, we are justified in believing that he is only pandering for Hispanic votes. There are more than three hundred languages spoken in America. No one has the time or the capacity to learn them all. There is no valid reason for Americans to learn Spanish as a second language any more than Chinese, German, Russian, Polish or any of the other foreign languages spoken.

Even the most liberal among us should be able to appreciate the importance of having official documents printed in English. It is foolish and dangerous, for example, to issue drivers licenses to individuals who do not read and write English since all traffic signs and route information are printed in English. Having drivers who are unable to understand printed instructions on street signs place all drivers in jeopardy.

To have bi-lingual or multi-lingual ballots and other official documents is not only detrimental to the welfare of the nation, but may also be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment that requires equal treatment under the law for all citizens. When local or national politicians advocate for bi-lingual documents they are usually referring to the Spanish language. When they do so they are tacitly saying that the millions of immigrants who speak neither English or Spanish are of little political importance to them.

Outside of Chicago where even the dead turn up regularly at the polls, there is no advantage to the nation in having ballots or voting instructions printed in any language other than English. Since most campaign literature is printed in English and most press conferences, campaign speeches and news reporting are conducted in English it is next to impossible for anyone who does not understand English to understand the issues. In order for a democracy to survive and prosper it is important that voters be informed enough to know who and what they are voting for. For that reason, it is important that anyone voting should at a minimum be able to read and understand English.

By the way, Barack, I am surprised that you are embarrassed that someone coming from Europe is able to speak French or German and we can‘t. Most people who come from Japan speak Japanese and even though I don’t, I am not embarrassed when I meet a Japanese immigrant. I would be embarrassed however, if my most ballyhooed claim to executive competence was time spent as a community activist on the south side of Chicago, and had done so little to encourage the young people of the area to become proficient in reading, writing and speaking the English language.

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