Recent comments by Democratic
presidential candidate Barack Obama, that people in the United States [United
Statesiens - see below] should teach Spanish or some other foreign language
to their children, brought an avalanche of criticism from supporters of English
as the nation's only language and from anti-immigrant campaigns on cable
[Editor's Note: Latin Americans
almost never refer to people in the United States as Americans - since
they consider themselves just as American as we are. Instead,
they use a different word, which is estadounidenses - which roughly
translates to United Statesiens].
But Obama is right. Whether
it's Spanish or any other foreign language, Americans are far behind the rest
of the industrialized world when it comes to mastering foreign languages.
In a speech in Georgia on
July 8, Obama, answering a question about bilingualism, said: "We live in
a global world. And I don't understand people who go around worrying about 'We
need to have English only'. They want to pass a law that would say 'We want
English only'. Now I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with
that. But it is important to understand this: instead of worrying whether
immigrants can learn English - they will learn it - you need to make sure your
child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about how your child can become
bilingual. We should have every child speaking more than one language."
Added Obama: "It's
embarrassing when Europeans come over here … They all speak English, they speak
French, they speak German. And when we go to Europe, all we can say is 'merci
OBAMA SPEAKS OF BILINGUALISM, IN GEORGIA
Immediately, the champions of
the anti-immigration cause went mad. Lou Dobbs of CNN and other cable TV
presenters, who are habitually allergic to anything that sounds Hispanic, concluded
that Obama was urging people in the United States to learn Spanish instead only,
rather than any other second language. The very idea that there might be more people
in the in the U.S. speaking Spanish knocked them off their rockers.
But the fact remains that the
percentage of United Statesiens who master a foreign-language is
pathetic compared to other wealthy countries. According to the Department of
Education, out of every hundred of college courses chosen by U.S. students,
only 8.6 are dedicated to the study of a foreign language.
"In total numbers, there
are now more college students than ever studying foreign languages," says
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association (MLA), a
New York-based organization with more than 30 000 scholars dedicated to the
promotion of teaching foreign language. "But, as a percentage of the total
number of university students, the number studying foreign languages has dropped
since the 1970s."
'Bush and Cheney bid farewell to Britain's
By comparison, a recent survey
conducted by Eurobarometro taken in 27 countries of the European Union revealed
that 56 percent of Europeans speak at least one language apart from their
native tongue, which is an increase of 53 percent over five years ago.
In Luxembourg - one of the
richest countries in the world - 99 percent of the population speaks a second
language, while 97 percent of Slovaks and 95 percent of Latvians have mastered
a second language. About 28 percent of Europeans speak two foreign languages,
an increase over 26 percent since five years ago, according to the survey.
Feal, of the Modern Language
Association, is optimistic that people in the United States will reverse the downward
trend in the study of foreign languages study in the country. "The
September 11 attacks have raised awareness of the need to know more about the
rest of the world, and the best way to do this is by learning the languages of
the rest of the world," says Feal. "And parents now recognize the
advantages of learning a foreign language very early in life. It increases the intelligence
of children; studies demonstrate that a bilingual brain learns everything
My opinion: Obama is right,
although it would've been nice if he himself spoke Spanish or some other language.
There's no doubt that people in the United States - especially immigrants -
should improve their command of English. Of course they should. But studying a
second language would not only improve the employment opportunities of future
generations of United Statesiens [people in the United States] - but it
would help the United States become much more competitive in the global
economy, to be more vigilant about what's happening on the rest of the planet
and, ultimately, be a more secure country.
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