When it is not OK

Posted on Updated on

Scott Thornbury today, via Twitter, said, “Why mock Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to speak Spanish and thereby ‘engage with Latino community’? bbc.in/oNDFeQ #unfunny”. I then read the article (from BBC) and decided to reply to Scott. I said, “As mayor of the city, he has the obligation to take classes and do his best to improve his Spanish. His Spanish is lame!”

Now, ‘lame’ is probably not the nicest word out there, and this is what Scott replied, “I’m disappointed to hear a language teacher decrying a person’s well-meant attempt to use a second language, however ‘lame’.”

Ok, this is Scott Thornbury after all, so it really got me thinking. I wrote back to him (in three tweets, because concision failed me). “But I’m not. You’re wrong. What I am doing is saying he should do more, because he’s a mayor where millions speak Spanish.”; “He has to do better. He has to study harder. It’s not like he doesn’t have the means to. As a teacher, I want to see effort.”; and then I asked, “Does this guy deserve a pat on the back? He used to coach South Africa: youtu.be/iewQ45wJ7JA“.

What I would also tell Scott now (will send him a link to this) is that, first of all, Mayor Bloomberg was not discussing soccer with the press as was Joel Santana, he was advising the nation/city at a time of crisis. I was not – only – speaking as a teacher when I said he needs to do better. But then again, doesn’t he need to do better? Don’t all our students need to do better (and in most cases indeed try to do better?). Mr. Bloomberg is not only one of the most affluent people in the United States and in the world, he is the mayor of New York City, the biggest city (is it?) in a country where, according to a survey carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau (according to Wikipedia), over 35 million people (over 10% of the country’s population) speak Spanish as their first language, not to mention those who speak it as a second language.

Now, kudos for Mr. Bloomberg for being able to speak some Spanish in a country where the president shamefully doesn’t, but where Scott and I disagree is that Mr. Bloomberg’s Spanish is good enough for communication, or that it should be used to address citizens, especially during the preparations for a hurricane. Mr. Bloomberg has the obligation to speak excellent Spanish, and this would certainly go a longer way to helping him engage with the ‘Latino community’ (a term which is extremely prejudiced – not to mention linguistically incorrect – and should, as well as Mr. Bloomberg’s Spanish, never be used).

To finish, I’ll re-answer Scott’s original question: No, we shouldn’t mock him. But no, we shouldn’t pat him on the back for speaking terrible Spanish on national television. And as far as ‘making fun’ is concerned, he is a public figure after all and should take it in his stride.

Please comment.

PS: Can I put on my CV I briefly discussed something with Scott Thornbury today? =)

PS2: I don’t think Mr. Bloomberg’s attempts in Spanish have been ‘well-meant’. They merely spell out “I want a third term!”

PS3: A friend just told me that when he went to Romania he did his best to speak what little Romanian he knows, and having read my Facebook question of whether Mr. Bloomberg should speak English, he asked me if I thought he too should’ve spoken English during this trip. Let me make it very clear that no, of course not. Students have to try – and try hard – to speak the L2 they’re studying whenver they have a chance. Mr. Bloomberg is not a Spanish student traveling abroad.


5 thoughts on “When it is not OK

    carolcolaneri said:
    August 30, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Hi, teacher!
    concordo com você, he really should do better e acredito que tudo depende do contexto em que você se encontra. Se deve falar publicamente como o representante de toda uma cidade, não dá simplesmente pra abrir a boca e falar qualquer baboseira. Cade a assessoria desse ser, gente?

    Alexandre Melo said:
    September 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

    The point is that these guys are not interested in knowing a language. However, no matter which position he wants to occupy , it is advisable for every potential candidate do the presidency, a high level of proficiency – to be more specific, more than 2 languages – . regarding that there are a lot of foreign communities in the USA.
    Honestly speaking, I believe that he has learnt the lesson.

    B is for Bad language learner « An A-Z of ELT said:
    September 25, 2011 at 2:50 am

    […] damned if he doesn’t’. However, a fellow tweeter in Brazil, Higor Cavalcante, went so far as to blog his disagreement, arguing that, as mayor of a city with a large Hispanic population “Mr. Bloomberg has the […]

    Mirian said:
    September 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Well, I agree with ScottThornbury; it’s NEVER ok to mock people, specially for trying, let alone for an EFL/ELT professional… It’s like having a psychologist mock someone for being depressed or paranoid.

    Really, I think YOU should do better.

    If ANYONE makes an effort to communicate in language, being it a soccer coach or a mayor, a secretary or a clerk, they should never be criticized by professionals whose job is to help them.

    I’m an Engiish teacher, too.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      September 29, 2011 at 10:50 am

      Dear Mirian,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here on the blog.

      I would suggest you visit Scott’s blog to see my reply to his post (I have never condoned mocking students, and I have no idea where you read that). Nevertheless, and I believe you can appreciate this, I believe your tone was a bit excessive. Tone it down, relax, and do more like Scott Thornburry and myself: disagree respectfully.

      I look forward to your comments in the future.

      Best wishes,

      PS: I am not mayor Bloomberg’s teacher.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s