July 14th, 2008
11:46 AM ET

Obama got it wrong on languages

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/14/art.obama.lulac.jpg caption="Sen. Barack Obama addresses the national convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) at the Washington Hilton July 8."]
Leslie Sanchez
GOP Strategist and AC360° Contributor

Speaking last week in Powder Springs, Ga., Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said, “Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, because they will learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.”

Now we know what he means when he talks about the need for “change.” What he means is that it's the country that needs to change, not Washington, D.C.

The remark was itself part of a larger outreach effort by Obama to appeal for the support of Hispanic voters in the upcoming election. As part of his effort to address the conflict over illegal immigration, the brunt of which has been felt by Hispanics, he phrased his statement in such a way as to suggest he was simply calling on parents to be certain their school-age children learned a second language. But, as someone who was born in the United States and who speaks both English and – to a lesser degree – Spanish, I am disturbed by the comments.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, the nation's second-largest school district, 92 languages officially are spoken at students' homes. Why go in front of LULAC and single out Spanish unless you are pandering to special interests? Or worse, as some in the blogosphere suggest, perhaps Obama is implying that Hispanics, both immigrant and nonimmigrant, cannot learn English so the rest of us should learn Spanish in order to communicate.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Leslie Sanchez • Raw Politics
soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Becky, PA

    What do you call someone who can speak 2 languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who can speak 3 languages? Trilingual.
    What do you call someone who can speak 1 language? American

    I think that there should be a push to make Americans learn to speak another language. It doesn't have to be Spanish...it can be any language of their choice. Learning another language can only help you, not hurt you.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:05 am |
  2. Susan, OH

    To all you low information voters Obama has always talk about learning foreign language for the global economy. So, don't get it swisted, "your mind is like a parachute, it won't work unless it's open"

    July 15, 2008 at 5:33 am |
  3. Donna

    You, Ms. Sanchez , are almost as xenophobic as Lou Dobbs. Obama is right on this one. Let's make our kids culturally smarter, better educated, maybe even multilingual!

    July 15, 2008 at 4:28 am |
  4. Trasa, Tx

    Although I do agree, that when you come to America, English is "THE" language and anyone who comes here to live she learn it. I do however, agree that it couldn't hurt for us Americans to be more fluent in other languages and she be taught in our schools. But I do say because we are so diversed, the issue would be which language she be taught, although, Spanish is the growing language of America. But something other than English would be great, I mean really, I do feel we're behind on our education system, it's obvious. My mom works in immigration and majority of the high tech careers are being offered to foreigners. We need to invest in our education system if we want to stay ahead of the race.

    July 15, 2008 at 2:27 am |
  5. Maurice

    It's an image that represents the creators twisted racist minds. At the end of the day it's just an image that Americans will soon forget. Just as they forgot about Afghanistan and $2.50 gas prices. So that image won't change the fact that Obama will be President. Because, those who know the truth... know, and those that don't know... never will.

    July 15, 2008 at 2:23 am |
  6. lampe

    I wonder how many different languages Obama's daughters speak? I do not think that anyone, has the right to tell another person how to raise their children. Our parents, many of them never even finished school, let alone speak spanish.They were able to make good lifes for their families. A lot of kids aren't lucky enough to go to different countries like the Obama girls, maybe their parents don't know what it's like to be entitled.

    July 15, 2008 at 2:05 am |
  7. Jessica- OH

    Obama said that students who study abroad and don't know the native language where they're studying are an embarrassment more or less. Being someone who just came back from studying in Europe I was really upset with his comment. I can speak enough of the native language to get myself around but cannot hold an in depth conversation with anyone there. However, I do not think I am an embarrassment. I think I am a product of my environment. Had I had the opportunity to learn a foreign language in school, I am positive that I would be fluent.

    I support Obama in his thinking that American students should be learning another language. However, I think there should be a choice- students should not be forced to learn Spanish. Also, he should be careful how he words things– they come off bad sometimes.

    July 15, 2008 at 1:28 am |
  8. Domera-Dallas,TX

    Patti is clearly a racist and wants to show off her english skills-you must be an english teacher. Kudoz to you. And by the way poor english skills go for all race. It's 2008 please stop all the HATE!

    July 15, 2008 at 12:14 am |
  9. Beta, OH

    Kristen from Phyllis, made a very good point on biased information.

    July 14, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
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