July 2008

A Trilingual America

July 2008 Cover

Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that “everybody should be bilingual...or trilingual” has been met with a barrage of criticism from conservative commentators claiming that he is criticizing Americans who speak only English instead of speakers of other languages who should be learning English.

For example, a Denver-based talk show host on a major station, was appalled by the concept of Americans learning Spanish to help Latino children, and criticized Obama for not supporting a law that would make English the official language of the U.S.

Other comments included “English is the language of commerce and should stay that way,” and “As long as I live in America, speaking English is sufficient.”

The point that the presumptive Democrat Presidential Candidate was trying to make was that U.S. students must learn a second or even third language or the country will struggle to compete in the global economy.

“We as a society do a really bad job teaching foreign languages, and it is costing us when it comes to being competitive in a global marketplace,” the Illinois senator said, adding that India has a “huge advantage” because most people speak English besides their native language.

“When it comes to second-language learners, the most important thing is not to get bogged down in ideology, but figure out what works. Understand that my starting principle is, everybody should be bilingual or everybody should be trilingual,” he continued.

Obama has also said that immigrant students must eventually learn English so they can fully assimilate into American society, that he supports transitional bilingual education, and that he is open to teaching in other languages if it is the best way to learn.

He is not saying immigrants do not have to bother learning English because English speakers are going to learn their languages instead, but that “everybody” should learn two or three languages including non-English speakers.

Any presidential candidate who disagrees with this position cannot have the long-term interests of his people at heart, because it is plainly obvious that the ability to speak more than one language is becoming more and more valuable as the world shrinks.

English is a very successful language that has grown and adapted to become the world’s only true lingua franca - it does not need the paranoid protection of xenophobes who fear that they will be marginalized by the growth of alternative languages.

All of us who have had the humbling experience of being in a situation where we do not understand the language being spoken can appreciate this fear. However, rather than accepting it, as with all fears, we should work to overcome it, and the best way to do that is to learn a new language. Who knows? Some might even enjoy it.

IN THIS ISSUE:

English Language Learners as an Asset
Ted Appel and Larry Ferlazzo describe their school’s strategies for maximizing the potential of English learners for the benefit of all students

Study Abroad for Teacher Evolution
Joan A. Rhodes and Tammy M. Milby show how the experience of study abroad can help teachers in their own diverse classrooms

From Gays to Goths
Lori Langer de Ramirez and Albert Martino explain how the application of multicultural understanding extends beyond ethnic and geographic borders

Spain, A Multifaceted Gem
Daniel Ward explains how Spain’s history has shaped it into the fascinatingly diverse country it is today

La Belle France
Christine Tsai falls for all France has to
offer the language learner

French in Belgium
Christine Tsai suggests an interesting
alternative French immersion destination

Last Writes
Richard Lederer on Our Sporty English

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