Barack Obama raised a lot of hackles when he belittled concerns that immigrants aren’t learning English and said the real issue is that American children should learn Spanish or another foreign language. (Update: Americans overwhelmingly disagree with Obama on bilingualism in a recent poll.)
“Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, because they will learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish,” he said. “We should have every child speaking more than one language.”
Obama, who doesn’t speak Spanish, says it’s a lot easier to learn a foreign language as a small child. True enough. But with schools struggling to teach mastery of English reading and writing, not to mention, math, science and history, I don’t think it’s wise to add second-language instruction to the elementary curriculum unless the school day gets considerably longer.
It’s not an economic issue. English is the language of global commerce. Europeans and Asians have to learn our language to do business; we don’t have to learn theirs. We do have to learn ours.
Louisiana officials may require English only in valedictorian speeches after Cindy and Hue Vo, co-valedictorians (and cousins) at Ellender High, thanked their immigrant parents in Vietnamese. Cindy Vo told classmates the Vietnamese sentence means “always be your own person.”
Hue Vo said she expressed gratitude to her parents for the hardships they faced moving here from south Vietnam.
“Itâ€™s very important to my parents that I keep my culture,” she said. “I felt if I expressed myself in Vietnamese it would be more heartfelt.”
Both girls are going on to Louisiana State.
English-only paranoia springs eternal, writes columnist Ruben Navarrette.
I don’t like it that some American teenagers barely speak proper English, much less a foreign language, and that they will eventually be outmatched in the global job market if they come up against someone from Europe, Asia, or Latin America who speaks two or three languages.
. . . I don’t like the idea that some people would try to tell two Vietnamese-American girls, who through hard work and discipline earned the privilege of addressing classmates as co-valedictorians, the circumstances under which they can make the address.
If monolingual Americans want graduation speeches in English only, they should study harder, get higher grades and earn valedictorian honors, Navarrette writes.