"You've got to turn off the Spanish television set" and stay away from Spanish-language television, books and newspapers, the Republican governor said Wednesday night at the annual convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. "You're just forced to speak English, and that just makes you learn the language faster."
Schwarzenegger, who immigrated to the U.S. from Austria, was responding to a question about how Hispanic students can improve academic performance. The audience included many journalists who work for Spanish-language media outlets.
"I know this sounds odd and this is the politically incorrect thing to say and I'm going to get myself in trouble," he said. "But I know that when I came to this country, I very rarely spoke German to anyone."
Some members of the audience said they were surprised by Schwarzenegger's comments.
"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, said Thursday.
Nogales said immigrants need Spanish-language media to stay informed and "function in this society."
Pilar Marrero, the political editor for the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, chuckled at the governor's comments, saying many Hispanics did not have time to learn English.
"They're too busy working," she said.
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 said the statements were no different from what he has said before.
In a 2006 editorial published in the San Jose Mercury News, Schwarzenegger said English-language immersion was the best way to learn the language.
In October, the governor was criticized by Democrats when he said some Mexican immigrants "try to stay Mexican" when they come to the United States and urged them to learn English and U.S. history and "make an effort to become part of America.
Schwarzenegger has garnered more Hispanic support than most Republican governors in the past two elections despite some seemingly anti-immigration blunders — such as praising the Minutemen border militia group on a talk radio show.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger also lauded President Bush's push for immigration reform, saying the country has its first opportunity for change in decades. But he said the Senate's current immigration reform proposal, which failed last week, still needs more fine-tuning so it can be enforced.