Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama lamented legislative pushes to make English the official language of the United States and said Americans should instead focus on making sure their children learn Spanish at a recent campaign stop.
“I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, we need to have English only. They want to pass a law, we just, we want English only,” Obama told supporters in Powder Springs, Georgia on Tuesday. “Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English, I agree with this. But understand this, instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they’ll learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.”
He continued his thoughts by expressing embarrassment at Americans’ language skills compared to the Europeans. “You should be thinking about how can your child become bilingual,” he said. “We should have every child speaking more than one language. It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beacoup, right?”
Obama has consistently opposed making English the official language. As an Illinois senator, Obama voted against a measure to make English the official language of the United States in June 2007. He was one of 34 senators who voted against the measure.
At a Democratic primary debate Obama said he thought it was nothing more than a wedge issue. "This is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us," he said. He also called the issue a "distraction" a word he commonly uses to describe controversial issues. Obama remarked, "When we get distracted by those kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people."