Department of Very Bad Immigration Ideas: 'Every child in the United States should learn Spanish'

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on January 6, 2011

Some ideas are so astoundingly bad that it is not only hard to take them seriously, but also to understand how they could be seriously made. Which brings us to Nicholas Kristof's recent column entitled "Primero Hay Que Aprender Espanol, Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen," which translates to "First, one must learn Spanish. Then Learn Chinese."

The starting point of this awful idea is Kristof's observation that lots of people are asking him "the best way for their children to learn Chinese. Partly that's because Chinese classes have replaced violin classes as the latest in competitive parenting."

Kristof says that he is a "fervent believer in more American kids learning Chinese. But the language that will be essential for Americans and has far more day-to-day applications is Spanish." (emphasis mine) And then he pens this astounding sentence: "Every child in the United States should learn Spanish, beginning in elementary school."

And why should every American child learn Spanish? Well, because "Spanish may not be as prestigious as Mandarin, but it's an everyday presence in the United States – and will become even more so. Hispanics made up 16 percent of America's population in 2009, but that is forecast to surge to 29 percent by 2050, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center."

So, you see since those living in the United States coming from Spanish- speaking country backgrounds will comprise almost 30 percent of our population, it would be prudent for every non-Spanish speaking American to learn their language.

He writes, "Spanish is a practical add-on to your daily life, meshing with whatever career you choose. If you become a mechanic, you'll be able to communicate better with some customers. If you're the president, you'll campaign more effectively in Texas and Florida."

Embedded in this "practical" advice is the assumption that it is important to learn Spanish because those you are trying to reach won't speak English.

Kristof's suggestion, were it to come to pass, would unravel and terminate a policy that has successfully operated for over two hundred years in helping new immigrants from hundreds of different countries become part of the American national community – assimilation.

The incentives to learn English on the part of Spanish-speaking immigrants would be much reduced, resulting in a rise of ethnic separatism.

Members from other groups would legitimately ask why their languages are not give such a privileged position and understandably insist that their languages are just as deserving of special treatment.

Does Kristof understand the implications of what he is suggesting? Is it possible he is really so ignorant about American history and development and the importance of a common culture, including language?

I don't really know the answer to that question, but I was surprised – no, a little shocked by the casual ignorance of his suggestion.

He ends his column by saying, "So, by all means, have your kids dive into the glamorous world of Mandarin. But don't forget the language that will likely be far more important in their lives: el idioma mas importante es Espanol!"

To which an American might legitimately reply: No, el idioma mas importante es English!