This was originally posted on August 29, 2011 at

Scott Thornbury today, via Twitter, said, “Why mock Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to speak Spanish and thereby ‘engage with Latino community’? #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:“.

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.

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