Romney and Gingrich Advocate English for Immersion and Official Language

In the GOP candidate debate in Jacksonville, candidates spoke with care as they navigated a culturally and linguistically diverse crowd of Florida voters. The candidates tiptoed around issues that divide Florida voters, like immigration and relations with Cuba. Romney and Gingrich duked it out over an ad approved by Mitt Romney in which he accuses the former speaker of calling Spanish the “language of the ghetto.” It’s true that Gingrich used “ghetto” to describe bilingual education (see Language Magazine December 2011 “Gingrich on Bilingual Education”), and soon thereafter issuing Spanish-language statement trying to smooth over his tactlessness.

The ad sparked a discussion about language, and both Romney and Gingrich revealed that they both support English as the official language of the United States and proceeded to argue over who was more in favor of English immersion. Romney cited that while he was governor, Massachusetts did away with instruction in other languages for newcomers and replaced it with English immersion. Gingrich reiterated that all people in the United States must learn English in order to get ahead professionally and also endorsed English immersion.

The candidates are taking heat from the media over their language-related platforms. Some bloggers insist that knocking bilingual education and foreign language learning while campaigning ferociously in Spanish is paradoxical at best, and hypocritical at worst. Other news outlets have reached deep into the candidates’ pasts to check for inconsistencies, finding that Gingrich flipped between staunch opposition to bilingualism and admiration for bilingual education throughout the 1990’s.

The issue of language will become increasingly important as upcoming primaries will be held in states with more immigrants and closer to the U.S./Mexico border.