« Teaching to Different English-Proficiency Levels | Main | A Primer for Celebrating Holidays in ESL Classrooms »

Tom Tancredo Takes a Stand on Spanish Translation


U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado congressman and Republican candidate for president, turned down a Spanish-television network's invitation to appear in a debate among Republican presidential candidates this Sunday because he's opposed to having his remarks translated into Spanish, according to a Dec. 5 article in the Washington Times.

Candidates will speak in English but their answers to questions will be translated into Spanish for broadcast on Univision, a Spanish-language network.

The other Republican candidates accepted the invitation to participate in the debate, according to the article. The Washington Times quotes Mr. Tancredo as saying, "What all my colleagues—what other candidates are doing—it's encouraging violation of the law because it's saying. 'Don't worry about the fact that you have to know English to earn citizenship.' "

I mention Mr. Tancredo's views on this blog to show how strongly some Americans feel that everyone who lives in this country should learn English. It looks as if some Latinos are taking note of his view. Hispanic Tips and ImmigrationProf Blog have linked to the same article that I have.

I wonder if Mr. Tancredo understands how long it takes for someone to reach a level of English competency that enables him or her to understand a debate over the pressing issues facing our nation.

Such language skill certainly doesn't happen overnight.


About 8 months to obtain proficiency.

The full text of his statement to the Miami Herald:

I declined the invitation to participate in the Spanish-language Republican presidential debate on Sunday because I do not want to endorse the further Balkanization of American political life.

The debate is being sponsored by Univisión, the country's largest Spanish-language network, and the candidates' answers will be translated into Spanish. Spanish-language news broadcasts and public-affairs programming is an expression of our First Amendment freedoms. I have given many interviews to Univisión as well as local Spanish-language stations. However, a Spanish-language presidential debate is a different animal altogether.

The question of bilingualism is not new to American politics. A former Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, once spoke about the importance of new immigrants giving up their old languages and allegiances in order to become equal partners in American democracy:

``We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good fellowship to every man, no matter what his creed or birthplace, who comes here honestly intent on becoming a good United States citizen like the rest of us. . . . Americanism is a question of spirit, conviction and purpose, not of creed or birthplace. The politician who bids for the Irish or German vote, or the Irishman or German who votes as an Irishman or German, is despicable, for all citizens of this commonwealth should vote solely as Americans.''

Can anyone imagine Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft having a Republican primary debate in German or Italian in 1912? Of course not. Indeed, I believe that Roosevelt's admonition applies today. It is proper to appeal to the ''Hispanic vote'' or the ''Asian vote'' or the ''black vote.'' We must appeal only for American votes.

Any political debate is aimed at citizens. It is about issues of concern to the entire community, not a segment of the community. It is vital that all political debates and discussions take place in the public square, not in separate enclaves. Our democracy does not need different messages broadcast to different audiences in different languages that are not heard or understood by other groups.

Our children learn in school that all registered voters are either native-born citizens or naturalized citizens, and all applicants for citizenship must pass an English-proficiency test. This test is included in the naturalization exam for a good reason.

Conducting political debates in any language other than English, whether Korean, French, Farsi or Spanish, is telling new immigrants that they need not take that particular requirement for naturalization seriously. The United States has a special need to have a common language because of the very diversity of its immigrants. Our parents and ancestors who were immigrants spoke many different languages on arrival. But they came here to become Americans, and as Americans, we conduct our political affairs in English.

Is it not a little bit insulting to our new citizens who were born in Cuba or Mexico or Peru to suggest that political debates need to be translated into Spanish for them to understand what is going on? Is it smart for the Republican Party to implicitly endorse the notion that newly naturalized citizens are not able -- or do not desire -- to understand speeches and debates spoken in English? If this is so, should we go to Westminster, Calif., and have a debate broadcast in Vietnamese and to the Russian Orthodox community in West Sacramento and have a debate broadcast in Russian?

The graduation exercises at the University of Miami, the site of Sunday's Republican debate, are conducted in English. The business of the Florida Legislature is conducted in English and the oath of office for a new president of the United States will be administered in English. It is not a good idea to encourage people to think that they can participate in American politics without knowing how to understand and speak English. Doing so offends not only citizens old and new; it offends the spirit of democracy and especially our heritage of equal justice under law.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., is a candidate for his party's presidential nomination.

I often find it very difficult to understand what politicians are trying to express, the plans they have for Americans, and their own beliefs. This has nothing to do with the English language either. On this point, however, Representative Tancredo is very clear. He simply has no message that was important for Spanish speaking voters to hear. Having a debate translated into Spanish does not offend citizens old and new, nor does it offend democracy or our heritage of equal justice under the law. In fact, just the opposite is true. In this instance, in 2007, the debate in English with Spanish translation allowed all of Latin America to witness our form of democracy and be inspired by it. In the US communities that watch Univsion, the debate encourages a deeper understanding of the complexities of our democracy and the issues of our time. In the end, more will vote and become engaged in the political process.

Finally, I have also learned three languages other than English in my lifetime and no language is mastered in 8 months. Today, I would have great difficulty in following political discourse in two of the three. A person can learn to ask where the bus stop is or how to order a sandwich in a short time, but to comprehend the language used in political debate, for example, takes a long time; in particular, when waiting lists for adult English classes abound across the nation for those wishing to learn English. I challenge Rep. Tancredo on his comment it takes 8 months - based on what evidence? Truth matters.

Your first mistake was "Spanish speaking voters", and basic proficiency is not mastery. One academic year (8 months) is common today for basic English immersion. You obviously did not read Mr. Tancredo's statement to the Miami Herald in its entirety:

"Our children learn in school that all registered voters are either native-born citizens or naturalized citizens, and all applicants for citizenship must pass an English-proficiency test."

I just want to let Tancredo supporters know that once he drops out of the race, you are all welcome in the Ron Paul R3volution! People, we'd love to have you and are with you on illegal imigration!

Social language acquisition usually takes 1 year; academic language acquisition usually takes ELL students 6-8 years.

Maybe Mr. Tancredo should be renamed "Sr. tan no lo creo". He is looking for votes from monolingual English speakers, instead of looking for votes from bilingual Spanish-English speakers. There is no official language of the US by design. Immigrants who came in the 1890's were not faced with large cultural, linguistic nor economic gaps like the immigrants of today. Read your history.

The truth matters. What is the basis or evidence for such a statement: "One academic year (8 months) is common today for basic English immersion?"

I taught US Citizenship courses and basic English will not assist a student to pass the test. Jim Cummins research in Canada suggested 1-3 years for social language and 5-7 years for academic language; however, examining US data, Viriginia Collier noted 7-10 years for LEPs to acquire and learn academic language to meet norms by native speakers as evidenced by norm referenced tests.

Number of years to learn a language is also affected by a wide range of variables including age of the learner, literacy skills in the first language, and access to programs and qualified teachers. For adults on a path to citizenship, how many have the luxury of going to school full time for a year or two? Instead those who wish to become citizens go to work everyday, raise their children, apply at adult schools, get on long waiting lists, and then go to school at night for the number of nights and hours that are available. Others add their names to library literacy programs and wait til there is an opening.

It is so much easier to suggest immigrants cannot or do not want to learn English than to look at the sorry condition of providing English classes. It was the intent of the President's NCLB to somewhat effect that, but it appears that the current contenders for the Presidency do not have the time or interest to examine reality.

Sr. tan no lo creo writes that he can't imagine Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft having a Republican primary debate in German or Italian in 1912. Here in Baltimore, as well as many other major cities in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were German and Italian newspapers that covered political debates and published stories in those languages for first-generation immigrants who wanted to be well-informed citizens. That certainly parallels a translated broadcast of the current debate.

With the incredible birth rates of Latinos and the continuous and unchecked Mexican invasion, this country will become another Latin American nation in our lifetime. What will this mean to you?...The disappearance of the English language, the destruction of our traditional American culture, the over-population of our cities, epidemics of once-thought eradicated diseases, crushing poverty, suppressed wages, and soaring crime. The amount of violence we have already seen perpetrated on American citizens by Latino foreign nationals will pale in comparison as uneducated, poor, lawless Latinos will take to our streets once again with their ‘demands.’ However, we will then be outnumbered.

If an honest effort is not made to protect our border with Mexico and we do not adopt sensible immigration policies, the United States as we know it will cease to exist. Just as France will soon succumb to Islam, the United States will soon join the Third World

I would expect that a presidential candidate would focus on the national and global issues that are challenging in our country and the world today. Instead Mr. T has shown that he is divisive and lacking in understanding of our times. Quoting the political orientation towards world languages in the early Twentieth Century only exemplify that he is unfit to lead in the Twenty First century. He is more than one hundred years behind the times.

Readers: I have removed a comment that was previously in this spot because I considered it to be a personal attack on another commentator and violation of the ground rules for posting, which are posted above the comment box.

Please be civil to each other when commenting on controversial issues. Name calling, labels, or personal attacks don't further a debate on anything.

Thank you.

Mary Ann Zehr, Learning the Language

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments

  • Charles: ELLs in our state ARE required to take State standardized read more
  • Melissa: Maybe I'm just becoming jaded, but this feels to me read more
  • Anonymous: Are you kidding me....UNO is an organizaion that literally destroys read more
  • Meg Baker: Are any schools using ACCESS scores for purposes other than read more
  • Dr. Mendoza: This is great news i must say. Hopefully this DREAM read more