Being bilingual or tri-lingual or just plain multi-lingual can be an asset in this world. And I would like for once to see a modern president of the United States who could actually, say, speak Spanish — he could converse with out neighbors to the south. Or speak French (whoops, Romney does that) and speak to our French-Canadian neighbors or to the President of France in his own language. Or wouldn’t it be nice to have one who could speak Chinese (John Huntsman?) to our bankers in China. Maybe it would have been handy during the Cold War to have one who was fluent in Russian.
Being fluent in another language does not mean you don’t love and respect and cherish good old English. In fact, if you are actually multi-lingual (that is you speak the languages with ease and correctly) you probably have a better command of your mother tongue — it takes that to learn another language well.
But displaying your foreign language skills is not really something you want to do on the campaign trail in America. It does not generally go over well with the broad mass of people. And I have to agree with many of those who would be put off by it that it is really not the appropriate forum. Yes it is handy, say, if you are speaking to a group of maybe Mexican-American farm workers, and maybe if all the people you are speaking to at the time are speakers of the language you are using that works.
But this time around John Huntsman has been throwing around some Mandarin Chinese. Very impressive. And I think that could be highly useful to him and our nation if he were to become president. But maybe it would be a better idea just to leave that skill on his written resume for the time being. American audiences don’t want to hear it. And why should they? Most could not understand it. It would be insulting. Kind of like when you’re somewhere and everyone is speaking a foreign language and you wonder if they are talking about you — especially when they point at you and laugh.
I witnessed first-hand Michael Dukakis use Spanish — only a few sentences, as I recall — at a campaign stop. Yes, there were no doubt many Spanish speakers there, but to non-Spanish speakers it just did not sound like good old American patriotism.
The worst was when John Kerry’s wife spoke — and now I forget — but a foreign language or languages at the Democratic Convention. I thought that went over like a bomb. This is America!
Technically English is not the official language of the U.S., but in reality and in practicality it is.
Oh, yeah, I know George W. supposedly spoke Spanish. But he was not all that fluent. He wound up calling the then president of Spain a duck by mispronouncing his last name.
Another reason to can the high-toned multilingualism — a little knowledge can be dangerous, and that is what Bush had or has.
Please don’t anyone misinterpret this. I am 100 percent for foreign language ability and think it should be required in grade school. Kids that age can learn it much more readily than adults. It is enriching and could lead to better world relations.