by JS O’Brien
Barack Obama is currently ducking the incoming from the something-for-nothing right on his assertion that Americans should learn Spanish.Â To be sure, he also says that immigrants to the US should learn English, as if all those immigrants are sitting at home thinking, “Gee, why should I learn English just so I can stop cleaning hotel rooms for $2 an hour and start earning a six-figure sales income?”
Obama’s assertion that learning a foreign language is a “powerful tool” in the job market is only partly right.Â It’s aÂ useful skill, certainly, for some jobs, but not necessary for most.Â Anyone who travels much outside this country is already aware that English is spoken almost everywhere there is a decent educational system.Â Heck, my clumsy attempts to learn a bit of theÂ local languages when traveling have often been met by hurt feelings.Â It would seem that many Europeans, at least, feel that Americans trying to speak their language is an indication that we think they’re poorly educated.
The Brits are the worst about this.
Nevertheless, most reputable US colleges require some high-school-level foreign language skills for admission, and a few (mostly the most selective ones) still have foreign language requirements for a degree.Â Kids who want to attend those colleges need to take a foreign language in high school, and I have pushed my daughter towards Spanish (at least, so far in middle school).
She can change her language once she reaches high school, of course.Â Our local high school offers German, French, Spanish, Latin, and Japanese.Â I think Japanese would be quite useful, and even Latin can be very rewarding, but Spanish is the language most likely to serve her well.
The fact is, the US shares a border with only one country that doesn’t speak English (and we’ll leave the more surly Quebecers out of this):Â Mexico.Â They speak Spanish in Mexico.Â In fact, countries that don’t speak English in the Western Hemisphere tend to speak Spanish or, in a few cases, Portuguese.Â Most of the immigrants to this country, legally or illegally here, speak Spanish.Â If you actually want to have the greatest chance of communicating well with non-English-speakers right here in the good ‘ol USofA, Spanish is your best bet.Â This is what I tell my daughter, to little avail.
My daughter finds Spanish too easy and wants to learn something more exotic.Â Her brother is currently attempting to become fluent in Urdu, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Arabic, and Swahili.Â I threaten her with those.Â She threatens me with unwed pregnancy.
Does anyone know a good Chinese tutor?