English plus

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.

“It’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.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Margo/Mom says:

    I commenced the study of French when I was in fourth grade–about a half and hour a day, for the “gifted classes.” The first three years (until we were in junior high school) were considered to be “conversational,” although some reading and writing were introduced.

    I have not had a tremendous use for the language, per se, but it certainly enhanced my understanding of English grammer, particularly having a sense of the rules underlying the differing verb tenses (there really are many more than just past, present and future–yet this is pretty invisible to us in our native language, where their use becomes instinctive), and understanding roots of words, etc.

    My daughter, on the other hand, began Spanish instruction in kindergarten. It required no extra time added on to the school day–all instruction was given in Spanish. She learned to read in Spanish (which actually makes a lot of sense–since Spanish truly is phonetic, all the time). Somewhere around second or third grade English was introduced for a portion of the day, increasing to about 50% by 5th grade. While many factors must be considered, the two language immersion schools in our district have consistently led in reading scores–in English.

    It’s true that English only has worked for us economically as we were able to insist that everyone else do business in our language–but I don’t see that as being a safe bet for the future. As Americans for generations we have operated to stomp out the bilingual abilities of generations of immigrants–as if the human brain could only handle a single language. Sadly, we have lost with it ties to the cultural heritage of our ancestors–even if only as small as the small, “pithy” idiommatic sayings that were my grandmother’s only surviving memory of Swedish. And we have only limited knowledge of what the rest of the world may be saying about us–the importance of which was brought home to us on 9/11.

  2. Kelly A. Mezick says:

    Few American citizens know this little fact: The United States of America has no official language. No, not even English. Is it selfish for English-only speakers of this country to want to keep it that way, or should we, as a country, attempt to expand our horizons and venture out into the land of “Multilingualism?”

    I do not pretend to know any language other than English. I took two classes of French in high school as a senior and two classes of Spanish in college as a junior, all to fulfill degree requirements. Would anyone like to guess where those four little classes got me? Absolutely no where. My cousin, on the other hand, went to a public school right outside of Atlanta her entire life and is “conversational” in three languages and is fluent in two, other than English. She attends the University of Georgia and they have just sent her to Mexico and Chile for the summer to be an interpreter for some researchers out of the Physical Science Department at UGA. Needless to say, she laughs not only at my pitiful use of Spanish and French, but of my little education of both.

    I’ll be honest. I hated my foreign language classes, but looking back, I know understand the need for them. Teaching foreign languages earlier in schools will positively affect our future as a cultural society.

    Kelly A. Mezick
    Auburn University
    Auburn, Alabama

  3. Amy in Dallas says:

    It’s great to tout advanced educative possibilities- bilingualism for all! But the reality is that if immigrants to the US do not speak English there are few jobs and a lifetime of frustrations in store for them.

    Also- its going to be hard for isolated monolingual Americans to learn more than a spatter of a second language because (IMO) human brains must be forced into it- it’s quite painful!

    Teaching Spanish to the Anglos is great for them, but English is the language of power in the US- not Spanish. The high school diploma, GED or simple job application all require English- not to mention the citizenship test!

    Not rigorously pointing this out does a disservice to all the people out there who are coming here to try and improve their lives. No English puts them in a permanent, exploitable underclass.

  4. Mrs. Davis says:

    It’s true that English only has worked for us economically as we were able to insist that everyone else do business in our language

    My history is a bit rusty. Was it after we saved the Europeans from their petty disagreements in World War I or World War II that we insisted everyone use English?

    –but I don’t see that as being a safe bet for the future.

    One wonders at the foolishness of the Chinese spending all this time learning a language that is about to become as dead as Latin.

    As Americans for generations we have operated to stomp out the bilingual abilities of generations of immigrants–as if the human brain could only handle a single language.

    That is a sad mis-understanding of the process of assimilation. The children of immigrants don’t want to learn the language of the old country because they want to be Americans. And that’s why by the third generation the children have lost the language, not because after they were kidnapped and held under penalty if they spoke a foreign tongue, but because they want to be Americans. Ever talked to an Amish farmer?

    Sadly, we have lost with it ties to the cultural heritage of our ancestors

    We still celebrate Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, though some of our cultural heritage such as Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s birthday, Decoration Day, and Armistice Day have been destroyed by those who despise our heritage.

    –even if only as small as the small, “pithy” idiommatic sayings that were my grandmother’s only surviving memory of Swedish.

    Then Margo, stop wasting time here and go take Swedish lessons so you can remember them. Although your continued presence will be evidence that you think the value of the time to learn it far outweighs the benefit, just as your parents did.

    And we have only limited knowledge of what the rest of the world may be saying about us–the importance of which was brought home to us on 9/11.

    Yes, if only more Americans spoke Arabic we would have been able to understand what we could not from the murder of the Olympians at Munich, the assassination of the ambassador to the Sudan, the innocent hostage thrown onto the tarmac at Athens, the assassination of the ambassador to Cyprus, the assassination of the Ambassador to Lebanon. the assassination of the ambassador to Afghanistan, the seizure of our embassy in Tehran, the assassination of the president of Egypt, the bombing of the embassy in Beirut, the bombing of the Khobar Towers, the assassination of the CIA station chief in Beirut,

  5. Mrs. Davis says:

    Sorry, I hit the submit button in error. Let’s see, next was the hijacking in which the hostages were held for 17 days on board the plane, except for the American sailor shot and thrown onto the tarmac, the Achille Lauro hijacking, the one where they dumped the wheel chair bound man into the ocean, the Berlin discotheque bombing, Pan Am 103, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attempted assassination of a former U. S. president, the bombing of the Marine hotel in Beirut, the Empire State Building sniper attack, the bombing of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.and the attack on the USS Cole. If only we’d known. And more Americans speaking Arabic was all that was standing between us and understanding what the rest of the world was saying about us.

  6. Robert Wright says:

    I tend to agree with Ms. Jacobs on this one.

    I had my son attend 9 years of a Spanish dual-immersion school and I’ve learned Spanish myself so I clearly do value it, but I’m not sure it’s been worth the time and effort.

    It doesn’t make much sense to me that the local high school requires foreign language and P. E.

    Do monolinguists tend to me ethnocentric? Perhaps, but that really isn’t a serious crime.

    The push to learn a foreign language is simply liberal social engineering.

    Taking three years of high school Spanish doesn’t make you more competitive in the world economy and it doesn’t make you a better human being. You’re lucky if it makes you order food better at a Mexican restaurant.

    Offer it but don’t require it.

  7. Seems pretty harsh to disallow a single sentence in a language other than english, especially a sentence that is accompanied by an english translation. That seems to be in the direction of making rules against education.

    But as Cindy Vo acknowledged in her speech, language is an important part of one’s culture. I would suggest that she’s primarily part of American culture and not Vietnamese culture, which sure seems lucky for the rest of us Americans. I would also suggest that English is the language of American culture, which Cindy Vo seems to have mastered. Although I’m not sure how successful enforcing language use/learning has been. In the computer field in which I work, languages and protocols tend to become established as de-facto standards.

    English may not be the “official” language, but doesn’t standardized testing in schools make it the de-facto standard language? I’ve always thought that the goal, at least in CA, is to test all students in english proficiency? Isn’t English the language in which all standardized tests are taken? I’ve never heard of any required tests for languages other than English or that tests in other subjects are in any language other than English.

    Who knows for certain what the future will bring, but I’d guess that English will remain the global language for a long time to come. The World Wide Web seems to be making English the entrenched standard language. So at least English speakers will get along fine with formal communications, but as people who have worked in large groups know, its often the informal networks that make things happen. And in the informal networks one has to speak the language(s) of that network. At the multi-national corporation I work for language practically defines these informal networks.

  8. “Few American citizens know this little fact: The United States of America has no official language. No, not even English.”

    Fewer still American citizens know this little fact: 29 of the 50 states, encompassing the majority of the population of the US, DO have English as their sole official language.

  9. BadaBing says:

    There are so many more important things in life than keeping one’s culture, whatever the hell that means. Off the top of my head I’d say that one of them is being a good person. If little brat Cindy Vo and her cousin want to keep their culture, they should get one-way tickets to Vietnam immediately because they won’t be keeping it here, and to say that they are is only play-acting, much like Afrocentrists pretend they are not Eurocentric but Afrocentric. It’s all a very snooty but dishonest and laughable game some “intellectuals” like to play.

    On the other hand, I think it’s wonderful that hordes of recent immigrants, egged on by American self-loathing diversity mongers, have come to this country to keep their own cultures. Maybe we can soon do in high school what we’re already doing at the university level, and that is have separate graduation ceremonies for each different ethnic/national/language group. This could go a long way in preventing group members from feeling guilty about losing ties with the cultural heritage of their ancestors, as Margo/Mom sadly has. (Boo hoo.)

    My grandfather came here from Italy to be an American, not to maintain ties to the cultural heritage of [his] ancestors. I sense a little bit of his spirit in me as I write this post. Time for an Ativan-Midol cocktail.

  10. Well said, Mrs. Davis. I pretty much agree with you. But, if I may, I think there is some benefit to getting picky about a few points.

    Otherwise good people sometimes slip into a regrettable tendency to put down a culture unfairly. In some situations we call that “prejudice” and are disgusted by it, as indeed we should be. But in other situations putting down a culture is seen as the proper thing to do. The situation I am thinking of, of course, is putting down our own culture, of being indiscriminately critical of America. There is a rule of courtesy that one can be self deprecating, as a way of simply being modest. However when we become too self deprecating it turns into something else, and can also be disgusting.

    If someone puts down my Norwegian heritage, I mean seriously, not just as a joke, then of course I would be offended, and most everyone would be on my side. If someone puts down my American culture, why should I not also be offended? Why should I not bristle at unfair and derogatory comments about my culture?

    Of course “unfair” is a matter of judgment. How about this as an example? Margo says “As Americans for generations we have operated to stomp out the bilingual abilities of generations of immigrants–as if the human brain could only handle a single language”. That makes me bristle a little. I don’t think we try to stomp out bilingual abilities of anyone. As a factual matter the assertion could certainly be disputed, and is hardly susceptible to proof or disproof. But what about the propriety of saying it? It’s definitely a putdown. Is that okay? Suppose we modify it just a bit and then ask about the propriety of saying it. Suppose someone were to say, “African Americans have for generations operated to stomp out the bilingual abilities of their children.” Is that okay? It sure sounds like a put down. Is it true? Is it false? Can it be proven either one way or the other? Shouldn’t we apply the same standards of propriety to saying that as we apply to the original assertion?

    Well, maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe a double standard is justified, even needed, due to historical circumstances. Indeed I think that would be the perspective taken by many people who consider themselves enlightened. It’s okay to put down white males, because they are powerful, but it’s not okay to put down anyone else. It’s okay to put down Christians because they are powerful, but it’s not okay to put down anyone else. It’s okay to put down Americans because America is powerful, but it’s not okay to put down anyone else.

    Actually I think there is a bit of validity to this. Some people, and some groups of people, are more vulnerable than others. The idea that people who are more vulnerable than others deserve more protection than others certainly makes some sense. But that hardly leads to the idea that the powerful can be put down gratuitously or unfairly. Perhaps some people truly believe Americans are intolerant of other cultures using their own languages. I think the bigger truth, and much more important truth, is that by world standards Americans are very tolerant of immigrants and their languages. Therefore, in my humble opinion, the idea that Americans have tried to “stomp out bilingual abilities of generations of immigrants” is a put down that is neither accurate nor helpful.

    And, if I may, I have an observation or two about languages.

    I think perhaps we should seriously consider the idea that the average human brain is capable of only one language, at least under the constraint of reasonable cost. Obviously that is not an absolute. Zillions of people know more than their native language. But I wonder if the number of people who are fluent and educated in more than one language is very large. I suspect it is very small. There is a cost, in time and effort, to learning a language. It is not a prohibitive cost, in many situations at least, but that does not mean that it is not high. In much of the world the value of knowing English is worth the cost. I would like to know Spanish. I know a little, but very little. I also have some idea of the cost, in time an effort, to learn a lot of Spanish. If I could look forward to living a year or so in Mexico or Spain, or even if I had a few permanent friends who were Spanish speakers, I would pay that cost. But if my only return is the satisfaction of knowing Spanish, and very occasionally the chance to actually use it, then the cost is too high.

    I do believe it is true to say that you are a better person if you know another language. It confers some very real intellectual advantages. But for most Americans it confers few practical advantages. Therefore cost has to be considered. I do not hold it against people who decide the cost is too high.

    Margo mentions that her daughter’s school with a Spanish immersion program has led in English proficiency. But certainly correlation does not imply causation. The kids that are put in a language immersion program is a very select group. I think we ought to consider the possibility that their English proficiency, high as it is, might actually be higher if they had not been in a language immersion program. This is not to argue against such programs. It is to suggest that as time goes on we might discover that the cost is higher than first thought. We may see the trade offs being adjusted as time goes on.

    I have never been convinced that the young learn languages easier and quicker than when they are older. Certainly there is a window of opportunity for acquiring an accent. Once that window closes it is exceedingly difficult to sound like a native speaker – ever. But that is only a part of a language. Is there evidence that a thousand hours spent learning a language starting at age four produces better vocabulary and understanding of a new language than a thousand hours spent starting at age sixteen? And do the intellectual advantages of a second language come more from the fluency in a limited range of language that a child gets, or from the classroom study that we expect of older language learners?

    I, like many others, am irked by those who would begrudge Cindy and Hue Vo a few words in their native language to their parents at graduation. But I think the big picture, the graduation, the opportunity offered by America to these immigrant cousins, the obvious success of their assimilation and millions more like them, is a cause for celebration. I think American culture and values deserve a pat on the back a lot more than put downs.

  11. From BadaBing:

    “There are so many more important things in life than keeping one’s culture, whatever the hell that means.”

    First part stated differently:

    Given all cultures are created by human beings, they have a lot of basic ideas in common — probably heavily weighted towards those ideas about being a basically good person.

    Second part addressed:

    I really suspect BadaBing knows what culture means, and also knows that language is an important part of ones culture. Actually I’m thinking that language is the most important arbitrary part of a culture. Peoples’ brains are hardwired to learn language, but not a specific language. However, once we’ve learned a language its often much harder to learn a second language. Hence language is both arbitrary and an extremely important way for connecting people. Hence the desire to honor one’s parents by using their native tongue. But also the reason the people trying to build and maintain a nation together can be bound together better by a common language — and i’d bet simple proficiency is good enough for this purpose.

  12. Bill Chapman says:

    As a British citizen, I won’t commrent on American politics, but I will comment on a linguistic matter. I would like to argue the case for learning and usinf Esperanto. It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. Take a look at http://www.esperanto.net

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years. What do you think?

  13. “If someone puts down my Norwegian heritage, I mean seriously, not just as a joke, then of course I would be offended, and most everyone would be on my side. If someone puts down my American culture, why should I not also be offended? Why should I not bristle at unfair and derogatory comments about my culture?

    Brian –

    I would suggest that American culture is not given the same due many cultures are for a couple of reasons.

    First, it’s young. Most cultures trace back a millenium or more, while America really developed a distinct culture only a couple of hundred years ago.

    Second, it’s dynamic. This is a side effect of the fact that Americans have very few deep-rooted traditions and that the culture arose in a time of technological and social advancement.

    Third, and most importantly, American culture can’t be claimed by a homogenous ethnic group. Without the association to a single ethnicity, American culture is viewed as being less worthy. I’m not sure why, but if I had to guess it’s the fact that the uncoupling of culture and ethnicity has yet to be entirely accepted.

    Now, the really interesting thing is to compare American culture in general to what is accepted as African American culture. Both share the first two traits, young and dynamic, yet it is less acceptable to disrespect African American culture. The only difference I see is the association to a specific ethnic group.

    As always, thanks for your insightful comments.

  14. Nels Nelson says:

    Probably half of all high school graduation speeches are themed around the phrase “carpe diem”.

  15. Andy Freeman says:

    Americans’ linguistic prowess is being understated.

    The vast majority of Americans can talk with one another.

    The vast majority of Europeans can’t.

  16. Brian Rude, excellent post.
    Mrs Davis, your post was the best I’ve read in many weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 🙂

  17. An admirable goal would be for all Americans, native and immigrant, to become fluent in English. Unfortunately, many native born Americans, sometimes including myself, sound as if they speak English as a second language. Before we get our undies all twisted about multilingualism, let’s agressively teach mastery of English.

    Just a thought.

  18. I would love it if everybody could become multilingual, as it would provide many more opportunities in life. Note: whether you choose to do anything with that opportunity is up to you, but is anybody really going to argue that knowing more than one language does NOT offer you more opportunities than knowing only one? Some people upthread said that learning Spanish never had any effect on their lives. Okay, but that was your choice to not do anything that would involve the language. A number of jobs require you to speak another language. If you want to live in a non-English-speaking country…well, it’s obvious. And so on. Yes, you can live a good life in America while only knowing English, but the fact is that you have *more* choices available if you know more than one language.

    But that’s an ideal. The practicality of implementing said multilingualism is, at this point, practically nil. Yeah, you can have foreign language programs at schools, but it’s really only going to work in neighborhoods where the kids are up to the task. Schools where children have a hard enough time learning English? Probably not gonna work. My hometown has a Chinese language immersion program in elementary school, and AFAIK the kids are all fluent in English. But my neighborhood is fairly affluent and we always score very highly on the national standardized tests. So it’s not like we’re lagging behind woefully in the fundamentals.

  19. Few American citizens know this little fact: The United States of America has no official language.

    Kelly – if you think this is a lttle known fact you shouldn’t pretend to know much about anything.

  20. Game set match to Nels.

    Learning English plus another language is powerful — whether measured by culture, travel, business or just grammar insight into English. Learning another language but not English is narrowing, especially in the US (that was the heart of the bilingual instruction melee of last decade) Not learning any language is a failure at many levels.

  21. Chris:

    As a sometime student of history, I found that the bilingual education wars of the last decade were merely a reiteration of earlier bilingual education wars that were ended by World War I. At that time we not only stopped instructing German immigrants in their native language until they learned English, we also stopped teaching German to Americans and built bonfires to destroy the works of Schiller and others.

  22. linda seebach says:

    Stephen Krashen, a leading advocate of the disastrous policy of “transitional bilingual education,” admitted (in an interview with the editorial board of the Rocky Mountain News) that indeed, older students learn a new language faster than youjg children. It’s just that the demands placed on language use in an academic setting increase even faster than students’ growing capacity to learn.

    The intellectual benefits of knowing more than one language apply no matter what one’s native language is, but the practical importance of learning English if you don’t know it are much greater than the practical importance of learning any other given language, if you already do. There’s no way to predict which one you will need.

    @Andy Freeman:
    “Americans’ linguistic prowess is being understated.
    The vast majority of Americans can talk with one another.
    The vast majority of Europeans can’t.”

    I wish I’d thought of that.

  23. Doesn’t anyone realize that by saying that Europeans are ever so much cleverer than Americans because they speak more than one language, then saying that we should learn Spanish, he’s insulting a vast number of illegal immigrants who do not speak English – some of whom have been here for two or three generations. But of course, he says that only so those same immigrants won’t have to learn English.

    As far as learning another language in school (mine was Latin), we seem to have failed miserably in teaching our own language. If our students can’t read, write, and speak English, how in tarnation do we expect them to learn another?

  24. Margo/Mom says:

    ZZ says: “If our students can’t read, write, and speak English, how in tarnation do we expect them to learn another?”

    Makes one wonder exactly how they do communicate, doesn’t it?

    But seriously–as I and others have recounted of our experience in learning other languages, one of the benefits to learning another language is the insight it gives one into one’s own.

  25. “Stephen Krashen, a leading advocate of the disastrous policy of “transitional bilingual education,” admitted (in an interview with the editorial board of the Rocky Mountain News) that indeed, older students learn a new language faster than youjg children.”

    That’s debatable according to the research. Nothing has been definitively proven. The critical period hypothesis is still widely accepted. Of course linguists still debate aspects of it all the time, but it hasn’t been debunked.

  26. Margo/Mom said, “Makes one wonder exactly how they do communicate, doesn’t it?”

    They communicated effectively within their own communities, once leaving them find they’re unable to read, write or speak in a way that makes them employable.

  27. Margo/Mom says:

    “They communicated effectively within their own communities, once leaving them find they’re unable to read, write or speak in a way that makes them employable.”

    Aha–they’re culturally substandard.

  28. Stacy in NJ says:

    Margo/Mom:

    “Aha–they’re culturally substandard.”

    No, They don’t have the necessary English language skill to communicate/compete in the job market. Language is one aspect of culture. Whether or not their “culture” fails to help them adapt to 21st century life is another questions altogether.

  29. Bill Chapman rightly points out the value of Esperanto as a living language.

    However it has great propaedeutic values as well. Esperanto also helps language learning. 🙄

    As a British citizen Bill might also be interested to know that nine British MP’s have nominated Esperanto for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008

    You can see detail on http://www.lernu.net

  30. Frank Zavisca says:

    Sorry

    As a “Real American”, I object to ANYONE forcibly immersing any student in a “second language in a taxpayer funded school.

    Parents can do this at home, which I am certain the Vo’s did.

    Opposing a closing statement in Vietnamese is as un American as it gets. It’s voluntary, and not mandated by law.

    But this is really no different than forbidding Christian students from using ANY religious symbolism in their graduation speeches.

    This is like telling a valedictorian that they can’t add a prayer to their speech or say their favorite role model is Jesus.

    What’s wrong with saying “Thanks Mom and Dad” in Vietnamese? (Of course, in CA you couldn’t say that because people with “2 mommies” might be offended).

    And comments to Navaretta’s column are maddening, by idiots.

    For example, those saying that the Vo’s are not “Real Americans” –

    Isn’t it being a “Real American” to be valedictorian at your high school ? (I am very fortunate to have two children – Jane and Tom who were Valedictorians at Lubbock HS in Lubbock TX – they spoke English, but a hell of a lot better than our “English Only Advocates”.

    And – Gee Whiz – Navaretta isn’t saying that all kids should speak Spanish. He is only saying that many parents of “English Only” kids (perhaps the 50% who don’t read at grade level) shouldn’t be criticizing two girls who are valedictorians for saying a few words in Vietnamese.

  31. BadaBing says:

    Isn’t it being a “Real American” to be valedictorian at your high school?

    No, it’s not. There’s an indefinable feeling I got when I visited the Antietam Battlefield, and not just from knowing that my Virginia ancestors spilled their blood there. This same feeling gets me when I hear bluegrass music, or Dizzie Gilespie, or Bob Dylan. Western films resonate with me. So does film noir. The tales of pioneers, pilgrims, Ernest Hemingway, Sleepy Hollow and a jillion other things speak to me like nothing else. There is a national identity and a national consciousness, if you will, that the Cindy Vos of Valedictoriaville can only strain at tapping into.

  32. Mrs. Davis says:

    There is a national identity and a national consciousness, if you will, that the Cindy Vos of Valedictoriaville can only strain at tapping into.

    If you ever want to know why the South lost the war, reread your statement. You were whipped by immigrants from Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Russia and every other corner of the globe who understood freedom, liberty and the American dream better than any slave owner.

    You have no idea what Cindy Vos of Valedictoriaville’s parents went through to get to this country. You have no idea whether they suffered real torture before they could get out and how long they may have drifted in their boat, never knowing whether they would die at sea as so many did or finally find their way to freedom.

    Your arrogance and condescension reveal you to be something other than a real American. You’re a shut-the-door-on-the-world,-I’ve-got-mine American who thinks there is something special in your blood. There isn’t. In fact I doubt you’ve got the gumption in your blood that Cindy Vos parent’s had.

    I think bluegrass, Dizzie Gillespie and Bob Dylan are garbage. But that’s just my musical taste. What makes my blood tingle as an American is not some farm field where my Yankee ancestors spilled your traitorous ancestors’ blood, but the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address. But the thoughts in those are the crown jewels of our country that you can only strain at tapping into.

  33. I’m a bit late to this conversation, but “Mrs. Davis for President!!”

  34. BadaBing says:

    If you ever want to know why the South lost the war, reread your statement. You were whipped by immigrants from Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Russia and every other corner of the globe who understood freedom, liberty and the American dream better than any slave owner.

    There were immigrants in the Confederate Army as well. Many of the Louisiana units were quite a hodgepodge of ethnicity. Indians fought for the Confederacy, and Mexicans and Frenchmen, and a Jew served in the Confederate cabinet. The vast majority of Confederate soldiers did not own slaves and had no dog in that fight, but they were threatened by Northern aggression and fought for what they believed to be freedom from tyranny, as symbolized in Virginia’s state flag. I highly doubt the average Wisconsin or Michigan volunteer marched for “freedom, liberty and the American dream.” They were trying to put down a rebellion. If you want to know why the South lost the war and why the average Southerner and Northerner fought the war, read some books.

    You have no idea what Cindy Vos of Valedictoriaville’s parents went through to get to this country. You have no idea whether they suffered real torture before they could get out and how long they may have drifted in their boat, never knowing whether they would die at sea as so many did or finally find their way to freedom.

    Neither the hell do you, although you infer that you do. Given Cindy Vo’s age, I doubt that her parents were boat people that spent years in a refugee camp, although I knew many such people as students two and three decades ago. I’m not sure what your point is here other than to manipulate the dialogue to make me look like an ogre. I believe that going through suffering, as many immigrants have done, can be an ennobling experience and I respect that. However, I don’t believe it automatically confers on someone a full understanding, appreciation and love for the culture of the country one has fled to, at least generally not on the same level as someone that was born here.

    Your arrogance and condescension reveal you to be something other than a real American. You’re a shut-the-door-on-the-world,-I’ve-got-mine American who thinks there is something special in your blood. There isn’t. In fact I doubt you’ve got the gumption in your blood that Cindy Vos parent’s had.

    At least you’re not arrogant or condescending, are you? I’m not sure where you’re even getting some of your whack ideas, but I never said anything about blood. Culture is a state of mind and cannot be found in a person’s blood or DNA. It looks to me like you’re erecting straw men. I am not a shut-the-door-on-the-world type, but I do not think that the massive immigration of the past 25 to 30 years is in the best interests of this country. And, no, I probably don’t “have the gumption in [my] blood that Cindy Vos [sic] parent’s [sic] had,” whatever that was. I don’t know about their gumption and I don’t know what it made them do. There’s no information on that in the article cited, although you assume their journey to America must have paralleled the journeys of Vietnamese boat people circa 1975-1985. Or maybe you don’t. In any case it makes you sound compassionate, righteous and morally superior when what you’re really doing is just bloviating. The whole point of my post was that culture is something that takes years to grow into, and that being elected Valedictorian of a high school graduating class does not automatically take you there, does not automatically take you into the mindset that many a native-born American possesses as an integral part of his being.

    I think bluegrass, Dizzie Gillespie and Bob Dylan are garbage. But that’s just my musical taste.

    I like them even more now.

    What makes my blood tingle as an American is not some farm field where my Yankee ancestors spilled your traitorous ancestors’ blood…

    You really need to brush up on your Civil War. In any case, I’m glad for any self-righteous crypto-racist Yankee war criminals my ancestors drew down on and killed before they themselves bit the dust.

    The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address…are the crown jewels of our country that you can only strain at tapping into.

    If you say so, Mr. Yankee carpet-bagger, sir or madame. And your vitriolic overresponse to my post speaks volumes about what a fine American you are indeed.

  35. My native language is Portuguese. Sure, you have more incentives to learn a second language if your native language is spoken in a Latin American country, a very small European country and a bunch of African States, but learning a second language does wonders to your language skills and to your understanding to the world.

    Sure, in Brazil very few people speaks English(even if that´s mandatory on all schools) but the world is ruled by bilingual people.

  36. “Before we get our undies all twisted about multilingualism, let’s agressively teach mastery of English.”

    Learning a second language helps you to master your native language. You learn another structure of words and verbs and you train your language skills to the hardest.

  37. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the West. Learning a Latin language is good because given that most Latin languages have the same structure is easy to learn another Latin Languages. For people interested in international affair being able to read the Le Monde is priceless and for people with an History of Art major being able to read in Italian is good.

  38. How strange the turns of discussion. We started out talking about language and now are refighting the war between the states, and the combatants are both people whose comments I have admired and agreed with in the past. Is there some way to get out of this?

    I think the issue is much bigger than just the present unpleasantness. In very real ways American has not gotten over the Civil War. I have never lived in the south, other than growing up in Missouri, but I have come across a few people with Confederate sympathies and lingering resentments. That war is not over. How can we stop fighting it?

    That’s a tall order, but I have a few suggestions, for both sides.

    First, be sensitive to who might identify with the Confederacy. Don’t assume everyone is on the side of the north. If you find a person who identifies with the Confederacy, then there are certain sensitivities to consider. Here is a parallel. Suppose you have a new neighbor move in next door, an elderly man about seventy-five or so, and discover that during World War II he was just old enough to be a part of the Hitler Youth movement before the war ended. Would you have certain sensitivities to consider? And should you consider them? I think you should. In the mid sixties I was in the Army stationed in Germany. That was a scant twenty years after the end of WWII. There was the potential for conflict in the everyday interaction between Germans and Americans. However I was not aware of any problems. I think the basic accommodation was that we simply did not discuss the war. (There was also the peculiar circumstance that any German we ever met would point out that he fought against the Russians, not against the Americans. They may have fudged a little on that.) My point is that in the interests of civility it often makes sense not to talk about old conflicts. I think that applies when you meet someone who is not quite done fighting the Civil War.

    But many people might say this is different. To avoid the topic of the war between the states is to give silent assent to the idea of slavery. That certainly is a moral issue. We are called by our consciences and by a deep national commitment to equal rights to do the right thing. Don’t we have a moral duty to speak up for what’s right? How can we get out of this dilemma?

    Here is where I think southern sympathizers can take the initiative. If you want to defend the Confederacy and your ancestors I think you can do so, but it would be good to start out by saying, “I don’t support slavery, and I don’t support discrimination, but . . . . . ” That may sound a little insulting. Why, you may ask, should you have to say that? I think the reason is very simple. To much of the country it seems obvious that the South was fighting to preserve slavery. Of course reality is always more complicated than that. Motivations are always complex. But whether the South was fighting to preserve slavery or not you can do a lot of good by assuring everyone that you do not support slavery now, and you do not support discrimination now. You are a part of the modern world, with modern world sensibilities. You may also have ties to the past, and are sensitive about having your ancestors insulted.

    Should Confederate soldiers be respected? I think they should. Didn’t they fight to preserve slavery? I think they did, and German soldiers fought to conquer the world for Hitler. But everyone is a slave to their culture, to a greater or lesser extent. (Thomas Jefferson, I understand, was bedeviled by the issue of slavery all his life and never found a solution.) They thought they were doing the right thing at the time. I am glad the North won the war. It ended slavery. But I think we can still show respect for the confederacy, just as we show respect for Germany and Japan, and people who did stupid things and ended up in jail, and people who did stupid things and can‘t pay their bills, and on and on and on.

    I am not saying all cultures are equal, but I would say it’s a losing proposition to argue in generalities about which culture is superior to which. People make mistakes. Cultures make mistakes. Slavery was a terrible, terrible mistake. Our country, as well as the slaves, suffered terribly as a result. Much the same could be said about Nazism and Germany. The way to get over it is to avoid needless conflict, to show respect for all parties involved as much as you can, and to speak carefully.

    It will be interesting to see how Obama handles all this. Maybe the subject will never come up in the campaign, but it might, and it seems like it could be a real minefield. What will he say when reporters ask him about some Confederate flag being displayed somewhere? I don’t know. The speech writer who figures out something to say that would defuse the issue ought to get a peace prize.

    I do not believe in collective or hereditary guilt. No one should be expected to apologize for the actions of their ancestors. But neither should anyone assert that their ancestors never made mistakes.

    To Confederate sympathizers I would ask this – what do you want to pass on to your children? I presume it is important to you that they respect their ancestors and their heritage. No one should have any problem with that. But surely it is equally important that they not be saddled with supporting ideas that are now decisively rejected. Surely you don’t want them to be defensive all their lives. Surely you want the war between the states to be history, not current events. I’m not sure how to do this, but I think it deserves some very careful thought.

  39. Reality Czech says:

    Cultures make mistakes.

    In all fairness, the culture which brought the institution to the colonies was very different from the one which fought the Civil War. The earlier one made the mistake, which was not so obvious at the time. Its descendant paid the price.

  40. Am I the only one who remembers when being fluent in at least one additional language was not only required for admission to college, but a standard sign of a truly educated person?

  41. Margo/Mom says:

    Renee:

    I remember it, but the requirement was not fluency–it was two years of a high school language, quite a different thing. The systems in other countries that really achieve fluency are teaching a second language (or teaching in a second language) at the elementary level.

  42. bilingualism in education and politicssh plus at Joanne Jacobs

  43. ggggrrrr……boy is this a topic that get my blood boiling. Being a teacher in Arizona, the subject of how to teach non-English speaking students is a hot one.

    I must admit that my views are very un-PC around here. My basic take is that it should be your obligation to learn the language of whatever country you are in and you should not expect people to learn yours just so you can go to school. This has nothing to do with which language is superior or which country is more enlightened, it just seems to be common sense. If I went to live in France, I could not imagine not having to learn French. If I lived in Spain, then learning Spanish would be my primary goal.

    Now I am very sensitive to the need of educating any student that comes to my classroom so long as they are doing whatever is in their ability to learn English. But here in Arizona there is a huge push that we should not “force” a child to learn English but rather we need to change our classrooms and lessons to accommodate the “English as a Second Language” learner. And the problem is just magnified when the parents refuse to learn English so the only exposure a child gets is when they are at school.

    Yes, as another poster stated, the United States does not have an “official” language. There may not be a law but there is no denying that we are an English-speaking country and so why do so many people think that it is unreasonable to to tell people that if you want to effectively function in this country, you need to learn the language? We are not going to force somebody to learn English just like we did not force somebody to come to this country – it was their choice and choices come with responsibilities.

    Like I said before…ggggggrrrrrrrr.

  44. I think that latin americans that move to the states will automatically learn English. Most of our media is in English, and our schools’ subjects are taught in English.

    I also think that people who want to remain competitive will learn Spanish without being forced to. If they want to keep their job or get promoted then they’ll just have to be better than the next guy.

    I started Spanish lessons because I like it. Now I’m glad I did because it looks like I’ll need it in the future. Here are some Spanish mothers day poems for people who like to learn through liturature. And the site also has thousands and thousands of the most common phrases you’ll hear natives say.

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