Learning Spanish is a hobby of mine. I mean I have been at it for probably three decades, or at least I trace it back to when I took courses in it as a returning student to college in my 40s. But at 66 now I have really only begun to really study it in the past two years, and what a shame, I could have been using it so much these past two decades as a truck driver — it is the language many places I go.
Sure made my vacation trips to Spain during the last two Autumns more fun.
So I am certainly aware of how helpful and even how fulfilling it can be to learn a second language (or more). But at the same time, I agree that English is the language of the United States (even though not officially by law). And I think it is best that dignitaries making addresses to the general public stick to English, unless possibly they are in front of a basically Spanish-speaking-only audience (and the same would hold true for other languages of course).
I say this in reaction to an article I just read about a female Spanish language news network presenter getting booed when she spoke Spanish before a graduating class at a Southern California college. Only some of her remarks were in Spanish, but she combined the Spanish with congratulating the Hispanics in the audience for their achievements. Apparently some non-Hispanics wondered what was up with that, what about them? And I guess she also got some boos for anti-Trump comments (heck I’d let her by on that one).
So I would not say she was wrong in her use of Spanish there, but it is questionable.
More questionable is the use by politicians of foreign languages. I think it certainly is okay if they are before an audience whose majority are only fluent in that language but otherwise probably better to save your language skills for another time, such as when you meet a foreign leader and find you can speak his or her tongue. Now that would be invaluable.
A common language is important for the stability of a nation. There are nation’s with more than one official language — Canada has English and French — but such a situation has historically brought problems with it. When people identify with a language over the country they live in there can be disunity, even peaceful Canada has had problems with the French separatist movement in the past.
Also I don’t think political candidates really get much boost from showing off their foreign language skills. Videos of Mitt Romney speaking what appeared to be fluent French — he served as a Mormon missionary in France — surfaced and seemed to work to his detriment. The other Mormon, Jon Huntsman, at being prompted I think, showed off his apparent skill in Chinese, and was ridiculed for it.
And again, although I am a foreign language wannabe of sorts (at times I have tried to learn German and French, besides my continual quest to learn more Spanish), I was frankly turned off when John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, went into Spanish (was it? or French? Italian? All three?she speaks at least five languges) at a Democratic Party convention. Hey, this is the United States of America. We speak English. We formed a the world’s strongest democracy as the result of colonists seeking the “right’s of Englishmen”.
(I think I have some English in my blood, but mostly German and French.)
I am impressed, though, by people who are fluent in multiple languages. And I certainly know it can make a world of difference in communication. And I think the world would be a lot duller place without multiple languages. And I think the various languages have their own beauty.
But there is a time and place for the use of foreign languages.
And I also resent people using foreign languages as a secret code to talk about others. That is about as rude as you can get.
My favorite story about that was when I was in the U.S, Army in Germany I had a sergeant who said he went to an on-post housing office and the staff was German nationals. They said insulting things about him in German. Then he told them what he was there for in perfect German. Unbeknown to them, he was a German national who had joined the U.S. Army.