Thursday, July 10, 2008
I wonder if his kids speak Spanish
Considering the private school they attend, I suspect they do...
But that aside, Obama has a good point which in typical, elitist, Europhile fashion, he manages to turn into a shot at all those stupid Americans* whose votes he covets. The good point is that it is an asset to be able to speak more than one language. Latin is the obvious choice for an historian-wannabe like me, but since that turned to be difficult to learn in southeast Kansas, Spanish is a decent #2**.
But his bad point is in presuming that it is a demonstration of sophistication that Europeans generally speak more than one language, that it's some mark of high culture that we provincial Americans lack, that's its just one more thing about which Obama can be ashamed of this country. It's none of those; multilingualism is just a necessity on a continent where so many languages exist so close together and there is such a difference in power among nations. Bosnians learn German because they want to trade with the Germans, not because they like to show off their high culture. If every state in America spoke a different language, Americans would generally be multilingual as well.***
But language, like any other learning, is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. In Europe, because they must use it, they don't lose it. Living here in the American Midwest, unless I make a conscious effort to use and develop my Spanish, my ability to speak it will naturally wither away. The vast majority of Americans who learned a foreign language in high school or college don't use it; 10 years later it's gone and they speak one language again.
I'm terribly sorry that we are such an embarrassment to Obama, but Americans' propensity to be monolingual, like Europeans' propensity to be multilingual, is rooted in necessity, geography, and history, none of which the average European has any more ability to impact than does the average American. Perhaps he should run for a leadership position in a far more refined country. In fact, any number of those sophisticated European countries might be looking for a new Sultan before long.
* Voters, being too stupid to know when they are being insulted, generally clap for this sort of thing.
** I would never give the French the satisfaction of seeing me struggle with theirs. Instead I will laugh at them as they struggle to learn Arabic.
*** Even that said, that Europeans speak multiple languages does not mean they speak them fluently or even well. Many speak English like I speak Spanish - haltingly and with a limited vocabulary.