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Hispanic Leaders Blast Schwarzenegger's Advice to Turn Off Spanish TV

Some Hispanic leaders lashed out Friday at California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's advice that immigrants should "turn off the Spanish television set" to better learn how to speak English.

Schwarzenegger, who immigrated to the U.S. from Austria, recently told a group of Hispanic journalists that immigrants should stay away from Spanish-language television, books and newspapers.

"You've got to turn off the Spanish television set," Schwarzenegger said Wednesday night at the annual convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in San Jose, Calif. "You're just forced to speak English, and that just makes you learn the language faster."

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., called the governor's advice a "typical sound bite solution to an important issue," said Jim Dau, a spokesman for Sanchez.

Sanchez said immigrants face the challenge of taking an ESL course because of long lines and up to a three-year wait to get into a class.

A Hispanic advocacy group said Schwarzenegger's comments show his "ignorance on immigration issues."

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated his ignorance on immigration issues once again by perpetuating the myth that immigrants have to reject their old culture and language in order to learn English and assimilate," said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Wilkes said today's Latino immigrants learn English faster than German and Italian immigrants did a century ago, without TV.

Spanish-language media helps Hispanics stay connected to their cultural heritage and important public information, according to a spokesperson for Univision, a U.S.-based Spanish-language television network.

"Spanish-language media plays the essential roles of providing the Hispanic community with the news and information they need and care about, and keeping them connected to their cultural heritage," a said the Univision spokeswoman, who declined to provide her name.

"In addition to daily news from around the world, Spanish speakers rely on Spanish-language media for information in critical situations, such as severe weather alerts and health emergencies, and for other public services they may not be able to get anywhere else," the spokeswoman said.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., agrees with Schwarzenegger that there should be English language standards.

"Congressman Hunter believes there should be English language standards in place, especially through this citizenship process," said Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter.

But TV viewers should be free to watch whatever basic programming they prefer, Kasper added.

Sanchez agreed.

"People should use whatever news outlets keep them best informed — whether they're in English, Spanish, German or any other language," Sanchez said.

Joey Vento, owner of Geno’s Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, told FOX News that Hispanics won’t progress until they are forced to learn English.

“The Spanish people will never progress because of the fact that it makes it so easy for them to go to school or have anything and it’s done in Spanish,” Vento said. “You must be forced to learn English to be prosperous, otherwise you will be limited.”

Francisco Hernandez, an immigration attorney, said there’s nothing wrong with encouraging immigrants to learn English but there’s no need for “immigrant bashing.”

“We have to remember that Spanish is part of this country’s heritage. There’s nothing wrong with it,” Hernandez said.

Schwarzenegger answered a question about how Hispanic students can improve academic performance, saying he was about to make a politically-incorrect statement.

"I know this sounds odd and this is the politically incorrect thing to say and I'm going to get myself in trouble," Schwarzenegger said. "But I know that when I came to this country, I very rarely spoke German to anyone."

But the governor's comments didn't sit too well with audience members.

"I'm sitting shaking my head not believing that someone would be so naive and out of it that he would say something like that," Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Rafael Olmeda, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said most NAHJ members would agree with the governor's statements.

"Most people I've spoken to walked away believing that he was trying to say that we must learn English to succeed in American society," Olmeda said.

The governor's office backed up Schwarzenegger's comments.

FOXNews.com's Melissa Drosjack and The Associated Press contributed to this report.