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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 24, 2012

Newt Gingrich says Miami Dade College students speak 86 languages

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are trying to woo Spanish-speaking voters despite taking stances that have alienated some Hispanics.

One of the debate moderators pounced on that hypocrisy at the Jan. 23, 2012, debate in Tampa.

Here’s how Beth Reinhard of the National Journal (and a former Miami Herald politics writer) posed her question:

"All of you favor making English the official language of the United States, which could mean that ballots and other government documents would not be available in Spanish. But, Speaker Gingrich, you’re sending out press releases in Spanish; Governor Romney, you’re advertising in Spanish. Why is it okay for you to court voters in Spanish, but not okay for the government to serve them in Spanish? Speaker Gingrich?"

"Well, first of all, you immediately jump down to a very important language, but not the only language," Gingrich answered. "The challenge of the United States is simple. There are 86 languages in Miami Dade College, 86. There are over 200 languages spoken in Chicago. Now, how do you unify the country? What is the common bond that enables people to be both citizens and to rise commercially and have a better life and a greater opportunity?"

To unify the country, Gingrich said, "I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in."

Reinhard: "So to be clear, you would only have ballots in English?"

Gingrich: "I would have ballots in English. And I think you could have programs where virtually everybody would be able to read the ballots."

We couldn’t resist checking Gingrich’s detail that "there are 86 languages in Miami Dade College." Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told us in an email that Gingrich was referring to the number of languages spoken by students.

First, a word about Miami Dade College. The school calls itself the "largest and most diverse college in the nation." Its website states that it enrolls more minorities than any other college or university in the country, including the most Hispanics.

Miami Dade College spokesman Juan Mendieta told us that the 174,000 students speak 85 languages in addition to English, for a total of 86 languages for the 2010-11 year. Those students come from 181 countries. Both numbers are based on what students reported during the admissions process, he said.

"It could be potentially more languages -- these are the languages students said they speak," Mendieta said.

Mendieta said: "It’s basically representing every one of the four corners of the earth. At graduation we parade across the stage the flags representing the study body. … The last flag on stage, which brings down the house, is the American flag."

The college reported in 2010 that English was the native language of half the students, Spanish was the native language of 43 percent, and Creole/French was the third-most common.

Among the less common: Assamese (a language spoken in India), Breton (a Celtic language spoken in parts of France) and Wolof (an African language).

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The 86 languages spoken by students at Miami Dade College were also cited in a proposed 2010 U.S. Senate resolution congratulating Miami Dade College on its 50th anniversary.

The college’s diversity and size make it a common stop in recent years for presidents and presidential candidates from both parties. The college was expecting a visit from Romney on Jan. 25, 2012, and a group of students were planning to attend an event with Gingrich at the Univision studio on Jan. 25, said Mendieta.

Gingrich said, "There are 86 languages in Miami Dade College, 86." We found that in this case Gingrich has a good memory for detail. We rate this claim Verdad, or Vrai, or True.

Our Sources

MSNBC, GOP debate transcript accessed in Nexis, Jan. 23, 2012

Library of Congress, Senate Resolution 626, Introduced Sept. 16, 2010

Miami Dade College Fact Book, Native Language of Credit Students, 1980-2010

Ethnologue, Ethnologue: Languages of the World web version, Accessed Jan. 24, 2012

Interview, R.C. Hammond, spokesman for Newt Gingrich, Jan. 24, 2012

Interview, Juan Mendieta, spokesman for Miami Dade College, Jan. 24, 2012

Interview, Tere Estorino, spokeswoman for Miami Dade College, Jan. 24, 2012

Interview, Juliette Blevins, co-director, Endangered Language Alliance, Jan. 24, 2012

Interview, Daniel Kaufman, co-director, Endangered Language Alliance, Jan. 24, 2012 

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Newt Gingrich says Miami Dade College students speak 86 languages

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