In the United States of America, there is no official language. That’s all there is to it.
English has enjoyed a privileged status for a couple of centuries, due to the number of native English speakers in positions of power and influence. But the English language has never been given official status by law, and our nation has never, ever been monolingual.
To our way of thinking, this is nothing but positive. Language is culture, culture is language, and an active blend of spoken and written languages indicates a healthy, vibrant, energetic culture. Hearing an array of foreign languages spoken around you is a privilege we enjoy in the United States, and should be thought of as an experience to learn from, not something to cause distrust or fear.
So it’s frankly about time, we think, that we started hearing some foreign language on the presidential campaign trail.
We’re not looking for candidates for higher office to read us poetry in five or six languages (although Mayor Pete could probably pull it off) – the non-English language with the most significant presence in the United States is Spanish, by a wide margin. Back in the 2016 campaign, we had several candidates on the Republican side who spoke Spanish as a first or second language, and this year it’s a handful of Democratic candidates who are reaching out to voters en español (some more successfully than others). This article from the Los Angeles Times explores how some Spanish-speaking voters feel about the candidates’ efforts to communicate with them.
We would make one additional point about the value of an American leader (or future leader) addressing voters in Spanish. Language is more than speaking – anyone who can speak Spanish can also, more importantly, listen in Spanish. And the most effective leaders are always good listeners.