July 11, 2008

Obama doesn't speak a foreign language

After telling Americans earlier this week to have their children learn Spanish, Sen. Barack Obama admitted yesterday, "I don't speak a foreign language."

Upon learning this news, New York Times op-edster Roger Cohen, who has written dozens of columns about how Barack Obama is the perfect postnational cosmopolite Citizen of the World, committed suicide in despair, his hopes and fantasies shattered. (Just kidding, I fear.)

Obama lacks a second language despite living for four years at an impressionable age in a foreign country, and then spending eight years at a lavish prep school that currently offers five different languages and makes studying at least one of them mandatory in 7th grade. Sen. Obama also has an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, which has a foreign language requirement and offers 37 different foreign languages, including some that don't exist anymore, such as Akkadian. He later spent three years at Harvard, which offers instruction in more languages than I'm willing to count. I did make it through Harvard's "African Languages" list and counted 20 separate ones offered at Harvard.

So, Obama has had more opportunity to learn a foreign language than 95% of all native-born Americans, but he hasn't.

And, yet, despite speaking just English, Obama seems to have done pretty well for himself. After all, he is the frontrunner for President. I guess the lesson is that he'd be the frontrunner for Galactic Overlord if only he'd learned to speak Bahasa Indonesian, Spanish, and Klingon.

Obama should go to a black church in Compton and tell the congregation to teach their children Spanish. I bet that would go over well.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

41 comments:

American Democrat said...

I think it's self-evident that Barak Hussein Obama is a hypocritical elitist!

Topiary Utopia said...

Imperial rules should be polyglots. Charles V spoke Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to his horse.

guest007 said...

Isn't the real reason that the elites want middle class Americans to study spanish (they do not seem to really care other langaugages) is so that they can call them narrow minded racist when the fail to learn enough Spanglish to be able to communicate with illegal aliens and barrio drewllers.

Henry Canaday said...

Americans spend lavishly in time and money on teaching and learning foreign languages. The real hurdle to our knowing any of these decently is that we do not have to. Most of us have no opportunity or obligation to even retain, let alone strengthen, our school-taught languages.

You could argue that we are wasting time, which should be devoted to more permanent and useful knowledge, by teaching languages in school. Perhaps we should just let whoever is actually going to live in a foreign country, for work or pleasure, take a 3-month cram-immersion course in the language, then develop it further when they get there.

Except of course for classic Greek. Knowing Greek enables you to feel superior to anyone who doesn't know Greek. And it is a lot cheaper than going to Harvard.

headache said...

"And, yet, despite speaking just English, Obama seems to have done pretty well for himself."

And, yet, despite speaking just English, Obama seems to have the chutzpah to tell ordinary Americans that they should learn a foreign language.

BGC said...

Henry Canaday says: "You could argue that we are wasting time, which should be devoted to more permanent and useful knowledge, by teaching languages in school."

It could be even worse than that! Some people (often women) fall in love with the langauges they are taught at school, and go on to major in them at college.

But according to Why Men Earn More, by Warren Farrell, language majors on average earn less than people who didn't go to college at all (probably because they want a job using their language, and there are too many people competing for too few jobs, so bidding the wages down).

The fact is that in the Anglophone world there isn't a compelling economic reason to teach a second language.

But learning a second language is very difficult for most people (like Obama, and me too); and even in Europe (e.g. France, Spain, Germany) ordinary people who deal with English holidaymakers _hundreds_ of times a day during their work, and would have immedicate economic advantages and opportunities, still fail to learn more than a few basic words of English.

The reaon for this discussion is nothing more than the fact that multi-linguality is another of the things that WPL:

http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/02/28/78-multilingual-children/

Anonymous said...

As the cost of computer chips and bandwidth continues to fall, it's soon going to be feasible to do real time signal processing on input audio signals, send them to a souped-up version of Google Translate in the cloud, and then hear the results via your Bluetooth headset in your language of choice. This will be built into next generation cell phones.

To take it to the next level, you can even imagine some kind of Jawbone type selective audio cancellation of the foreign language utterances themselves, with subsequent translation being delivered to your ear after a short pause.

Is it as good as knowing the other person's language? No. But it'll be dozens and dozens of languages, it'll be as good as a UN translator, and that's good enough for most purposes.

I've seen Ray Kurzweil give a live demo of a prototype French to English machine of this kind, and he's already working with the Google Translate people:

http://blogoscoped.com/forum/15386.html

Anyway, with this as so many other things, idiot politicians embrace brute force manual labor rather than automation.

bjdouble said...

Notice how BOH said, Spanish? Spanish is lame. We should teach the kids French so they can go to Paris and order escargot en francaise.

Truth said...

For an American, learning a foreign language is rarely about 'opportunity' and more often about necessity. In my humble opinion, holding a grown man's feet to the fire for not speaking the language of a country he left when he was eight years old is exactly what it sounds like it is.

Additionally, I have a hard time understanding why an aspiring civil rights attorney/ local politician who attended Harvard would be any more likely to have achieved fluency in a foreign language than for instance, a well regarded journalist-dillettante who attended UCLA and Rice.

albertosaurus said...

It has been widely reported that Obama while at school distinguised himself as a dvout Muslim because he recited the Koran in Arabic. I assumed this meant that he spoke at least a little Arabic. No?

Anonymous said...

"The real hurdle to our knowing any of these decently is that we do not have to. Most of us have no opportunity or obligation to even retain, let alone strengthen, our school-taught languages."

Or as my Spanish language teacher would say, "If you don't use it, you lose it." Yes, we'd all be multilingual if traveling from the state of Florida to neighboring Georgia necessitated knowing a different language, but it doesn't. Being multilingual is good for those within, say, the top 5% who travel abroad for business (the reason this woman wants to learn French: French antiques!)

BTW, my children will be learning Latin. It's good for having a good command of the Romance languages. I had a friend in high school who scored a 1510 on the SAT while scoring a perfect score on the verbal. He credited that score partly to knowing Latin which his parents, staunch Catholics who weren't reconciled to Vatican II reforms, made him learn. Funny enough, I tutored him in Spanish and I was younger than him. I didn't take the SAT, but doubt I could have gotten a perfect verbal score.

RD said...

What about Obama’s faux-Southern accent? Doesn't that count for something?

dollmaker said...

This is nuts. Anyone who lives near a ghetto knows the tension between blacks and Hispanics right now. It's like a candidate telling Jewish parents to teach their kids German so they can read Kant.

Except of course Barry was only talking to the rich white part of the Democratic party that can drop 4 figures to see him in person.

What no one's mentioned yet is what Barry O says AFTER that. What justification does he give for teaching our kids Spanish? Literally, that "it's embarrassing" when European tourists come here and can speak English, while when we go there we can only say "Merci beaucoup." There's that ol' inferiority complex again. Two weeks ago he proposed $1bil for summer programs for non-white kids; maybe black kids from Compton and Somali-American kids from Maine can spend their summers learning Spanish together. I can't believe the media's just letting this stuff pass by without comment. To quot Will Ferrell in Zoolander: "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

Big Bill said...

In his YouTube speech, Obama told the audience to learn another language so they wouldn't embarrass Americans (Obama?) by not saying more than "merci beaucoup" on their European tour and so they could get a job in "international business".

I expect his friends on the Harvad Law Review told him the importance of "international business" as a source of jobs.

Of course it is unclear how enabling Spanish will be to a bruthah or sistah living in the Atlanta ghetto. I guess it would enable them to get a job at a McDonald's serving on the illegals that Obama has promised to bring out of the shadows. I guess that is sort of "international business".

How much longer do you figure everyday black folks are going to fall for this guy?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Obama's girls are learning Spanish. If not, it'll be interesting to see how long it takes before they're shuffled off to token Spanish lessons.

The man confuses me. I don't mean to digress from the topic in hand, but his comments about Iran last week leave me feeling that perhaps he really is the lightweight I've always feared he might be. At least on foreign policy. There seem to be such curious gaps in his reasoning ...

Anonymous said...

Didn't Condi Rice claim to be able to speak Russian (she supposedly has a doc in the subject, after all)?

I thought it was amusing that news reports had her faltering badly just after "privyet" (hello) on a none-too-recent meeting with Russian officials.

Hmm... Maybe it WAS a racial appointment, after all...

travis said...

US citizens learning a foreign language is cleary a non-issue in a presidential campaign; raising the issue only serves to betray Obama's elitism. Politics, even at the presidential level, is mostly about "bread and butter issues, and to routine regulations to routine affairs, both of which Obama clearly finds boring (he's no "policy wonk"). He prefers to raise aesthetic objections to American society. Probably not going to help him win over many working-class whites.

Martin said...

Remember, Michelle told us that Obama was going to make us work. We need to earn the trust that His Transcendentness has (provisionally) placed in us. He (praise be unto him) who has deigned to allow mere voters such as us to elect him has ordained that we prove ourselves worthy of this honor.

The boss-man demands much of his posse, so start conjugatin', bitch.

gary said...

"Obama should go to a black church in Compton and tell the congregation to teach their children Spanish. I bet that would go over well."

Actually, he should go to a black church in Compton and tell the congregants to make sure their children can speak and write standard English. (See how quickly he gets an invitation to return...)

grizzlieantagonist said...

***** Obama should go to a black church in Compton and tell the congregation to teach their children Spanish. I bet that would go over well.*****

It might go over better than telling them to teach their children the King's English.

By the way, does anyone believe, as I do, that the so-called rift between Jesse Jackson and Obama (over Jesse's suggestion for foolproof birth control) is actually a "fix" between the two of them performed for the purpose of giving Obama his own "Sister Souijah" moment?

Perhaps a better question would be, does anyone doubt it?

SKT said...

"Obama should go to a black church in Compton and tell the congregation to teach their children Spanish. I bet that would go over well."

LOL! That's classic Sailer. I'm going to have to borrow that one.

Bill said...

Amazing. I learned French in a few months at the age of ten (with a lot of help from Asterix and Tintin comic books) while attending school in Nantes. Obama lived in Indonesia for four years and he didn't even learn Malay?

Maybe a few months is faster than usual, but four years is more than enough time for any normal child. For Obama to live in a foreign country for that long and still fail to learn the language demonstrates his lack of interest in his surroundings, or maybe a profound self-absorption. These are not good characteristics for a leader.

Also, perhaps his mother, deep in her soul, didn't have all that much respect for the third world cultures she studied and discouraged Obama from engaging with them.

airtommy said...

albertosaurus said...

It has been widely reported that Obama while at school distinguised himself as a devout Muslim because he recited the Koran in Arabic.


No, it hasn't been widely reported. The reason? It isn't true.

One would have to be quite ignorant to even consider such a story, since it's no secret that Obama is a Christian and has been his whole life.

TomV said...

Truth:

I have a hard time understanding why an aspiring civil rights attorney/ local politician who attended Harvard would be any more likely to have achieved fluency in a foreign language than for instance, a well regarded journalist-dillettante who attended UCLA and Rice.

Answer: the politician expresses embarrassment at his countrymen's inability to speak a foreign language; the journalist doesn't. Not so hard, is it?

Besides hypocrisy, there's also self-interest. Thanks to America's reckless immigration policy, which Obama wants to continue, proficiency in Spanish is an asset for a presidential candidate (what Mr. Truth calls "local politician"), and will soon be a requirement.

By the way, I speak and read three more languages than Obama.

Mark said...

Isn't the real reason that the elites want middle class Americans to study spanish...is so that they can call them narrow minded racist when the fail to learn enough Spanglish to be able to communicate with illegal aliens and barrio drewllers.

Elites want plebes to learn Spanish so that one part of their servant class can converse fluently with the other.

Of all the major languages I can think of learning, Spanish is just about the last one Americans have any reason to bother with. Hindi and Mandarin will be more valuable economically; Arabic and Farsi are more valuable militarily; and French, German, Italian, Latin & Greek are of far more value culturally.

Martin said...

"Big Bill said...

How much longer do you figure everyday black folks are going to fall for this guy?"

They'll fall for it as long as Obama is black.

"grizzlieantagonist said...

By the way, does anyone believe, as I do, that the so-called rift between Jesse Jackson and Obama (over Jesse's suggestion for foolproof birth control) is actually a "fix" between the two of them performed for the purpose of giving Obama his own "Sister Souijah" moment?"

I would lay the odds at greater than even money. Much greater.

Richard said...

I'll admit that I'm studying French, Russian and Arabic to feel superior to others. I also want to eventually translate Lynn and Rushton into French and especially Russian, so that if we keep ignoring race/IQ at least I can contribute to civilization continuing to survive somewher else.

Richard said...

"Didn't Condi Rice claim to be able to speak Russian (she supposedly has a doc in the subject, after all)?

I thought it was amusing that news reports had her faltering badly just after "privyet" (hello) on a none-too-recent meeting with Russian officials.

Hmm... Maybe it WAS a racial appointment, after all..."

Is this true? Got a link?

I was in a third year Arabic course, and most of the kids, some of whom had lived in the middle east, didn't know how to conjugate verbs. True, Modern Standard Arabic has a dual and distinguishes between male and female plural, but still. It is in language classes where it becomes most obvious that the majority of college kids don't belong there.

Bill said...

guest007 said...

Isn't the real reason that the elites want middle class Americans to study spanish (they do not seem to really care other langaugages) is so that they can call them narrow minded racist when the fail to learn enough Spanglish to be able to communicate with illegal aliens and barrio drewllers.


No, "elites" demand Spanish to freeze out more expensive English speaking natives. These elites aren't even cultural elites; they're just greedy businessmen who prefer peons to citizens.

Most cultural elites don't know a lick of Spanish, and have all the less interest in it because it's (wrongly) perceived as a gutter language here in the US.

For the record, I can read Spanish fairly well with a dictionary by my side, but I'm too lazy at my age to do so very often.

none of the above said...

If Barrack Obama could somehow convince the parents of those kids from Compton (and similar places) to take school seriously and make an honest effort at it, he'd be worth voting for regardless of his other policies.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if Obama's girls are learning Spanish."

I bet they are! For two reasons-

1. I think its pretty normal for american kids to take foreign languages- i had spanish in elementary school 35 years ago, not that i remembered it!

2. I think it is pretty normal that parents want for their kids to have what they can't have themselves [or were too lazy to acquire]. Aren't any of you parents? {if 'yes'] Don't any of you want your kids to do something you haven't done? If I had any, I already know what's on my list- so I'm sure Barry and Michelle are the same way if they are have as much sense as i do.

3. and as a more practical matter, it really is good to know the same language as the servants!

Truth said...

"Answer: the politician expresses embarrassment at his countrymen's inability to speak a foreign language; the journalist doesn't. Not so hard, is it?"

Actually for a plebe such as myself sir, it is fairly hard; as you have a knowledge of four languages, I can only assume that one is English. Obama's quote, as I read it, was as follows:

“I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing!”

As I have only been speaking English for 42 years you will have to express to me where he indicates embarrassment at anyone else's fallibility other than his own.

And I will take your word for your fluency in three additional languages. That would of course mean that you speak and read three more languages than Juan Pablo McCain, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Regan, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Ross Perot, George McGovern, Richard Nixon, John Anderson...

It would also mean that you speak two more languages than John Kerry and Michael Dukakis (who was the son of immigrants), and that you spoke and read four more languages than our sitting president, George W. Bush.

And what do all these men (and woman) most probably have in common? If you were to ask them at a public speaking engagement if they thought Americans learning 2nd and third languages was a good thing I think that they would all respond in the affirmative Ne-c'est pas monsieur?

twister said...

" Hindi and Mandarin will be more valuable economically"

No point learning Hindi for economic reasons - all educated Indians speak English.

Anonymous said...

Re: Mark said

Of all the major languages I can think of learning, Spanish is just about the last one Americans have any reason to bother with."

Actually, that's ridiculous and just plain wrong. The entire Western hemisphere except for the U.S., Canada, and Brazil (to an extent) speaks Spanish -- that is reason enough to know it.

Anonymous said...

if they thought Americans learning 2nd and third languages was a good thing

Sure. They'd also say that ponies are a "good thing", that low crime is a good thing, that good schools are a good thing, that "everyone being literate" is a good thing, and so on.

The question is whether those things are simultaneously feasible and achievable given scarce resources.

The immigration and reproduction trends in our country are currently causing mean and median IQ to fall like a rock. Less than 7% of black children are born to mothers with IQs over 100 (that's from the AFQT data if I recall correctly), and they're not exactly starting from a position of strength. And of course Hispanics have never been renowned for their academic ability.

So we have a bizarre public discourse in which the importation of dull people incapable of learning English is an opportunity to lecture us on how we should waste time, money, and energy learning a second language!

Rather than moving technology forward, we're going to waste time on communication overhead -- to speak with one of the least productive, most criminal populations in the US, no less. A lose-lose proposition.


Do the children of Chinese immigrants have problems speaking English? No. "It's the IQ, stupid!". As with crime and wealth and so many other things, the failure of the low IQ to learn English becomes an excuse to take away the freedom, the money, and the leisure time of the high IQ.

Same story with guns. Same story with all our freedoms.

Blode said...

Obama's attitude here is just the same as that of every America-bashing leftist I've ever known.

ABL: "In Europe [ultra-smarmy voice] they speak more than one language, because they're not as hideously narrow-minded and uneducated as us Americans. [You must give me respect because I have attacked my own people.] Americans are unique in the world in being one-language only."

Blode; "Oh, I don't know. I've known some Europeans who don't speak more than one language. Europeans are lucky in getting more opportunities to practice multiple languages than us. Out of curiousity, Mr. Self-Congratulating Leftist, do you speak any foreign languages?"

ABL: "No! And of course it's not my fault, because our schools are so terrible. [I took Spanish in high school, but I can't speak it now so it must be someone else's fault.] Our schools are underfunded. The Federal Department of Education is one of the smallest Federal departments! That settles it."

Blode: "Actually, I think our schools are some of the most expensive in the world. And how would more or less funding prevent or allow your having worked harder in Spanish class? Or perhaps studying the language of a group of people that isn't welfare-colonizing us by the million? French, Latin, German, Japanese...?"

ABL: "You're such a xenophobe, you're practically conservative! [A roll of the eyes signifies the end of the leftist's argument.]"

Blode: "God damn Obamica!"

ABL: "That's right, god damn America!"

TomV said...

Truth:

As I have only been speaking English for 42 years you will have to express to me where he indicates embarrassment at anyone else's fallibility other than his own.

Here. What you quoted was the damage control, not the damage.

And I will take your word for your fluency in three additional languages. That would of course mean that you speak and read three more languages than Juan Pablo McCain, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Regan, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Ross Perot, George McGovern, Richard Nixon, John Anderson...

Which just proves Steve's point and disproves Obama's about the importance of foreign language skills.

Your knee-jerk defense notwithstanding, nobody is arbitrarily picking on Obama for his inability to speak a foreign language. He brought the focus upon himself with his condescending speech. American kids are coming out or dropping out of high school without basic English skills, and he's telling them they "need" to learn a foreign language, even though he hasn't done so himself. This is too rich even for a haughty globalist liberal.

That said, there are some benefits in learning a foreign language:

1. Realism. See Derbyshire's report from lurking on a Chinese forum. When you don't know the language of a foreigner, it's easy to blame everything on the linguistic barrier, project from yourself to fill the gaps, and assume that we're all the same inside.
2. It would be frustrating to read Lolita without knowing French.
3. French can help improve your English (although Latin and Greek would probably be better).
4. (Fairly in-depth) knowledge of Chinese can dispel some myths that White People really like.

Except the first one, which can be cured more efficiently by a regular dose of iSteve anyway, none of these are or should be a concern for average Americans.

geronimo mctavish said...

Blode its interesting what your ABL says about Europe. Its just what a British leftist would say too, a BBL (well B&ABL, we have to bash America as well as our own country, see thats what cultural imperialism does!)

Being British we don't actually regard ourselves as European (in the political sense) and a good little BBL would still unwittingly buy into that distinction when comparing Europe goood to Britain (& America) baaad.

Most British children don't learn a second language and the arguments wheeled out are exactly the same as used by your ABL.

none of the above said...

Actually, I think if we really wanted to, we could get most kids to be very good at speaking a second language, by full immersion in school. I certainly am no expert, but I don't think learning languages as a kid is especially mentally demanding--it's certainly widely claimed to be easier than learning it as an adult.

Anonymous said...

Hey, the three-term mayor of Boston, Thomas "Mumbles" Menino, can't even speak English! This in the Athens of America!

Thanks to the nuns at St. Joseph's School, I had French and Algebra in grammar school. I also took 2 years of Latin and 3 years of French at my Catholic high school. I believe the Latin helped me to acheive an excellent SAT verbal score, which I took only once my sophomore year.

Thirty years later, I remember enough to impress the impressionable.

Joe said...

You know, mccain spent a few years in a foreign country too, why doesn't he speak any foreign languages? As I understand it, he just sat around all day.