WASHINGTON – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is mulling a presidential bid, said his "word choice was poor" when he equated bilingual education with "the language of living in a ghetto."
In a video statement read in Spanish, subtitled in English and posted on YouTube Wednesday, the Georgia Republican said he was not attacking the Spanish language.
"I made some comments that I recognize caused a bad feeling within the Latino community. My word choice was poor but my point was simply this: In the United States it is important to speak the English language well in order to advance and have success," he said.
Advocating intensive English-language education "is an expression of support for Latinos, not an attack on their language," Gingrich said. "I have never believed that Spanish is a language of people of low incomes, nor a language without beauty."
Gingrich made the original comments Saturday in a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women. "The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. ... We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto," Gingrich told the women's group.
The comments sparked a backlash within the Latino community, but the YouTube statement was a "step in the right direction," said Peter Zamora, the regional counsel for the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The video shows Gingrich is "trying to remedy the negative effects of the fallout from his statement, which really generated a lot of negative impressions, especially in the Latino community," Zamora said. "It's a definite shift from this weekend."
In the past, Gingrich has supported making English the nation's official language. He's also said all American children should learn English and that other languages should be secondary in schools.
In 1995, for example, he said bilingualism poses "long-term dangers to the fabric of our nation" and that "allowing bilingualism to continue to grow is very dangerous."
Bilingual programs teach students reading, arithmetic and other basic skills in their native language so they do not fall behind while mastering English.