Education

What’s Next? English-Only Commencement Speeches?

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 30, 2008 1 min read

School officials in Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana are considering barring students from speaking a foreign language during commencement speeches, according to an Associated Press article published today in The New York Times.

The proposal came about after Cindy Vo, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants and a co-valedictorian at Ellender High School, recited a sentence in Vietnamese to honor her parents, who are not fluent in English. She translated the sentence into English during the speech, which was a command to always be your own person, the article says. (July 1 update: Here’s a longer version of the AP story. Cindy Vo’s cousin, Hue Vo, the co-valedictorian, also spoke briefly in Vietnamese during her speech, without providing English translation.)

I have to wonder if a white valedictorian had delivered a commencement speech at the same school and dropped a line in French, based on what he or she learned in a school foreign-language program, if school officials would have reacted the same way. So often, people’s feelings about language in this country are connected to their feelings about immigration.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.