The benefits of being bilingual 

rubio-marcoIt is often said that when Democrats sat at their 2004 convention, waiting to hear the bland blather of John Kerry, they really came alive with the electrifying oratory of an obscure state senator – and US Senate candidate – from Illinois. The only thing missing from Barack Obama’s speech that day was the words that would have made the convention swoon – “I accept your nomination for president”. He was able to follow up with those words four years later.

In 2012 it was Republicans who fell in love. In a speech that had them alternately roaring approval, rocking with laughter and wiping tears from their eyes, the junior Senator from Florida introduced their candidate for President. The candidate’s speech was flat in comparison. 

Marco Rubio was much the best speaker at that convention. He may be the best speaker among those contesting the Republican nomination for 2016, but he has a rival far more eloquent than Mitt Romney, and that is Texas Senator, Ted Cruz. 

Of the two, Cruz is far fonder of incendiary rhetoric. He recently accused gay people of “waging Jihad” against Christians. Really? Christians are being beheaded and crucified by the Human Rights Campaign? Churches are being burnt down and pastors imprisoned? Or are we just witnessing some petty argument about cake decorations and floral arrangements? 

It was with a sad shake of the head that Marco Rubio told Republicans “Our problem with Barack Obama is not that he is a bad person. Our problem is that he is a bad president”. This man is not your enemy, he was telling them, but we can do better

There are other good communicators seeking the Republican nomination. Chris Christie is a master of the townhall meeting. He takes joy in confronting his critics and in his trademark move of taking off his jacket and throwing it to an aide. Mike Huckabee is a master of comic timing and expertly charms small groups. But in the now resurgent skill of political rhetoric it is Cruz and Rubio who stand out. They craft the English language into majestic phrases which move, amuse and inspire. And the medium in which they weave this poetry is, in both cases, their second language. Though both have spoken English since childhood, both come from families in which Spanish is the first language. 

This may not be a coincidence. One of the most spellbinding orators to be Prime Minister of Britain, David Lloyd-George, was also the only one for whom English was a second language. 

It is hard to truly appreciate anything in an isolated context. You cannot reason from a single example. So it is, perhaps, not surprising that people who speak two or more languages to native standard often speak them all better than most others. A second language does not take up space in your brain that could be used for something else. It doesn’t even take up space in a school curriculum. Learning a second language, before the age of eleven and preferably by seven, enables you to learn other things more quickly and more thoroughly. 

Teaching languages at elementary school need not, therefore, be in place of other teaching. It is an enhancement to other teaching. And the next reform of the curriculum would be to teach rhetoric: in two languages, of course. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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