At a campaign event in Georgia, Barack Obama responded to a question about bilingualism,
You know, I don`t understand when people are going around worrying about, “We need to have English- only.” They want to pass a law, “We want English-only.”
Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they`ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.
You know, it`s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], “Merci beaucoup.” Right?
You know, no, I`m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they`re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they`re 46, like me.
Well actually many immigrants aren`t learning English, but that is really beside the point. It is true that most children of immigrants do eventually learn English, but the problem with bilingualism is that if that is not their primary language, then it allows for entire ethnic enclaves where English is not spoken. By allowing for business and government affairs to be easily conducted in Spanish, we are setting up our own Quebec.
Most Canadians can speak both French and English, but that doesn`t prevent language from being a huge source of ethnic tension that has nearly split up the country.
As for Americans becoming bilingual, National Review`s Jim Geraghty responds.
Note that Obama isn`t merely saying, “learning foreign languages is swell,” or, “those who speak a second language deserve a pat on the back.” He`s saying that monolingualism or English-only is an insufficient condition for American citizens.
This is a very dramatic change from the position of American leaders for most of our history. It used to be, if you spoke a language besides English, a thriving life outside of immigrant enclaves would require effort to speak the mother tongue. American culture as a whole said to the immigrant, “You have to get with the program.” Now, Obama is pointing to Americans who speak only English and saying, “Now you have to get with the program.“
You can watch video of Obama`s comments here: