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Obama’s Language Mandate: Why It Feels Like Hungarian to Me

Learn Spanish? As my family could attest, being force-fed the language of invaders only breeds resentment.

Mary Grabar


August 3, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Learning another language for its own sake makes one a more educated person in a profound sense. One gains a deeper understanding of his own language when exposed to the structure of language anew — in a way that goes beyond the diagramming of sentences in one’s native language.

For the Ph.D. in English, a degree that certifies one capable of work in the impractical — the beauty of language and ideas — the languages traditionally recommended for study have been Latin, French, and German because they make up the roots of English. The rationale has been that to understand literature written in English, one should be proficient in at least two of the aforementioned languages. They are also helpful in the study of older forms of English: Old English and Middle English.

Such a philosophy is a traditional one and is being picked up by homeschooling parents who recognize the value of learning Latin in understanding English grammar.

Language for the sake of language and for its ability to provide a richer understanding of the greatest works in our heritage has been abandoned for the utilitarian function of grinding forward “social justice” through Marxist-inspired texts about oppressed workers, many of them Spanish-speaking. To this end, more and more universities list Spanish as an option for demonstrating required language proficiency.

Obama’s call to teach children Spanish, therefore, reveals not an enlightened appreciation of another culture, but a quotidian concern with basic communication, furthermore communication with immigrants who today are most often illiterate or semiliterate. Obama is not imploring us to learn Spanish in order to read and discuss the works of Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Cervantes, but to be able to fill out welfare forms, give orders to construction workers, and to unionize chicken pluckers.

Obama, the Harvard-educated lawyer, betrays his own leftist objectives and profound lack of intellectualism. Like his radical friend, education professor and leader of the former Weathermen Bill Ayers, he does not value learning for its own sake, but sees it as a political tool, another way to use education to advance social goals. Obama’s view of foreign language acquisition is the opposite of the one of conservative parents and professors who have advocated foreign language study for the benefit of the student’s intellectual advancement. Obama, the dour schoolmaster, tells us we “must” learn the language of the border-hoppers who have invaded our country. I think I know what it felt like when my aunt was forced to learn Hungarian.

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Mary Grabar is a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Clinton, New York. Her writing can be found at Subscribe to dispatches here.
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