Como Se Dice? Obama Clarifies Comments Over Foreign Languages

By Jennifer Parker

Jul 11, 2008 1:22pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: Sen. Barack Obama reiterated his belief Friday that America’s children to learn a foreign language, firing back against criticism he received from some conservative groups who suggested the Illinois senator wanted to make the United States a bilingual country.

Speaking in Powder Springs, GA on Tuesday Obama told the crowd that it’s embarrassing when Europeans come to the US and they all speak English. By comparison, Obama said, America’s young people do not have matching language skills.

“All we can say is merci beacoup,” Obama said. “We should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age.”

The statements prompted outrage from some conservative groups who argued his remarks were an endorsement of the idea that Americans should be forced to learn Spanish.  Americans for Legal Immigration PAC posted Obama’s comments on their website with the headline: “Voters Reject Obama’s Call for Bilingualism.” 

At a town hall in Dayton, Ohio the presumptive Democratic nominee attempted to explain his statements, blasting the interpretation of his original remarks.

Obama brought it up while speaking about how the Bush administration’s "No Child Left Behind" education policy has forced schools to cut programs like foreign languages.

“I said something the other day down in Georgia, and the Republicans jumped on this. I said, you know, absolutely immigrants need to learn English, but we also need to learn foreign languages,” he said Friday.

Obama told the crowd that this is one of the problems with politics today.

“This is an example of some of the problems we get into when somebody attacks you for saying the truth, which is we should want children with more knowledge. We should want our children to have more skills. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a good thing,” he said.

While the Obama campaign says that Obama speaks a little bit of Indonesian, Obama himself admits that he isn’t bilingual.

“I know because I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” he said.

The Obama campaign reiterated Friday that Obama would continue to require immigrants to learn English to be eligible for citizenship.

"Senator Obama has always said that learning English is an important step for immigrants to the United States and would make it a requirement for citizenship, but he also believes that learning a foreign language is an enriching experience for young people in this country," said Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki.

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