It is inspiring to see an American presidential candidate demonstrate fluency in a foreign language. I don’t know how well Obama can converse in Spanish, but this message comes across as conversational and that he has a grasp of the language rather than just parroting foreign sounds. We have come a long way since JFK said “Ich bin ein Berliner” (which translates to “I am a jelly-filled doughnut,” rather than the identification with the city residents as he intended). Despite the humorous translation, the gesture was appreciated by Germans who heard the speech, as well as those from a later generation who told me the story. In general, Americans have a poor reputation for understanding other cultures and reaching across boundaries.

I think every American child should learn a foreign language in elementary school for the same reason that I believe that all children should learn how to program a computer, solve trigonometric equations, and understand latin and greek word roots. While later skills can be learned well later, language is best learned at a very early age. They may never use these skills in their lives and quite possibly forget them by the time they have children of their own. The reason to learn these things is that your mind grows when you learn, you understand a different perspective, a different way of thinking. Facts that kids learn in school are incidental; they need to be learning how to think.

Learning a foreign language is particularly important because it teaches about people. It allows you to personally reach across barriers and communicate. There’s nothing like the connection you achieve when you speak to someone in their native tongue.

The website dotsub offers the ability for any member to translate captions for any video. This message from Obama where he speaks to the audience in Spanish has been translated into 19 languages.

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