Suzanne Bibby, Director of Government Relations Published on 24 January 2012
Moderator: All of you favor making English the official language of the United States, which could mean that ballots and other government documents would not be available in Spanish. But, Speaker Gingrich, you're sending out press releases in Spanish; Governor Romney, you're advertising in Spanish. Why is it OK for you to court voters in Spanish, but not OK for the government to serve them in Spanish?
Newt Gingrich: Well, first of all, you immediately jump down to a very important language, but not the only language. The challenge of the United States is simple. There are 86 languages in Miami Dade College, 86. There are over 200 languages spoken in Chicago.
Now, how do you unify the country? What -- what is the common bond that enables people to be both citizens and to rise commercially and have a better life and a greater opportunity?
I think campaigning, historically, you've always been willing to go to people on their terms in their culture, whether it's Greek Independence Day or something you did for the Irish on St. Patrick's Day. And I'm perfectly happy to be on Radio Mambi, and I'm perfectly happy to have a lot of support in the Hispanic community.
But as a country to unify ourselves in a future in which there may well be 300 or 400 languages spoken in the United States, I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in.
Moderator: So to be clear, you would only have ballots in English?
Newt Gingrich: I would have ballots in English. And I think you could have programs where virtually everybody would be able to read the ballots.
Moderator: Governor Romney, can you take that question?
Mitt Romney: I think Speaker Gingrich is right with regards to what he's described. I'd note that in my state we had a tradition of teaching people in the language of their birth, and so we had in our school systems people being taught in a whole range of languages. And we had to have teachers that could teach in Cambodian, in Vietnamese, and other languages. And our kids were being taught in foreign languages in our own schools. And we found at the end of their education experience they couldn't all speak English well. It made absolutely no sense.
And so we campaigned for English immersion in our schools and said kids coming in will have a transition period. Then we're going to teach them in English.
Look, English is the language of this nation. People need to learn English to be able to be successful, to get great jobs. We don't want to have people limited in their capacity to achieve the American dream because they don't speak English. And so encouraging people through every means possible to learn the language of America is a good idea.
Recognize at the same time we want people coming here from other cultures that speak other languages. That strengthens America. It's a great thing. But having them learn English is also a great thing for them and for their kids.
Moderator: Congressman Paul?
Ron Paul: Yes, my answer is similar, but a little bit different, because at the national level, obviously we have to have one language. I mean, we can't have multiple languages. So, for legal reasons, we would have one language.
But our system really gives us a way to be more generous, because if Florida wanted to have some ballots in Spanish, I certainly wouldn't support a federal law that would prohibit Florida from accommodating a city election or a local election or a state election. I think that's the magnificence of our system, where you can solve some of these problems without dictating one answer for all states. But nationally, we should have one language.