Tutor: Newt Spends Hours Learning Spanish

Newt Gingrich's suggestion that bilingual education can lead to "living in a ghetto" prompted outrage among many Latinos. But not Ricardo Gonzalez.

For eight months, Gonzalez has been teaching Spanish to the former House speaker and possible Republican presidential candidate. And he helped Gingrich tape the Spanish-language portion of his bilingual YouTube video apologizing for the comment -- an apology that critics derided alternately as stilted, painful, funny and insincere.

But Gingrich's Spanish has improved markedly since the taping, said Gonzalez, who asserted that the media misinterpreted his student's "ghetto" comment by taking it out of context.

"I'm not an apologist for Newt, but I can tell you unequivocally that those are not Newt's views of the Spanish language," said Gonzalez, who said he tutors Gingrich two or three times a week.

After the uproar over Gingrich's comments, Gonzalez said, "It was deemed important to come out to the Latino community and show that he has, at least for some time, been learning the language as proof that he does not think Spanish is the language of the ghetto."

Gonzalez said he sat in on the taping because "it was also important that someone who knows how to speak to the Latino people was there so that, frankly, he didn't say something else that made it worse."






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Gingrich's political committee reported last week paying $1,667 in travel expenses to Gonzalez's Spanish tutoring company, Bilingual America, for the April trip to Washington, where the YouTube video was produced.

But Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler said the former speaker's committee, American Solutions for Winning the Future, paid for the trip because Gingrich wanted Gonzalez to give a presentation on doing business with Hispanics.

"Ricardo had been contracted to be in Washington months before the decision to put up the Spanish YouTube video," Tyler said. "He did help with it while he was here, but his being here was purely coincidental."

Tyler said that he recommended Gonzalez's company to Gingrich for Spanish lessons but that American Solutions doesn't pay for the lessons.

Bilingual America, headquartered in the Atlanta area, offers English and Spanish instruction for all skill levels. Gonzalez developed the courseware and conducts one-on-one tutoring over the telephone, which he said is both more effective than in-person instruction and more practical for adult professionals, his target clientele.

The company's website calls Gonzalez "America's Best Spanish Teacher" and features testimonials from a police officer, a CEO and athletes, including former Atlanta Braves star catcher Javy Lopez.

Gingrich also wrote a letter of recommendation for the company, said Gonzalez, who insisted he didn't take personally the criticism of Gingrich's Spanish on the YouTube apology.

"Why would I? I have thousands of students who've graduated from my program who speak Spanish extremely, extremely well," he said. When Gingrich started his tutoring through Bilingual America, Gonzalez said "he was at zero. He really spoke no Spanish. He had a little bit of background in French," which Tyler said resulted from Gingrich's living in France as a young man.

Gingrich had not planned to take his Spanish skills public until he was a more polished speaker, Gonzalez said, estimating that at the time of the YouTube taping, Gingrich was speaking Spanish at a "beginning to mid-intermediate" level.

Still, he said it would have been possible to make Gingrich "sound like an advanced-level Spanish speaker" in the video. But he added, "That would have been incredibly disingenuous. It also would have set him up for Latinos to criticize him for reading a teleprompter and deceiving them."

Gingrich's goal is to be able tgive interviews in Spanish by fall, Gonzalez said, and he's on pace to do that.

"He could go to any Latin American country right now and talk with any person for an hour or two hours and get by pretty well," Gonzalez said. "He's a mid-intermediate-level Spanish speaker. But he's improving, and I applaud him for learning. He's put a lot of time into this. He's a busy man, whether one agrees with his politics or not."

So if Gingrich ran for president, would Gonzalez vote for him?

"I couldn't answer that question right now," he said, citing the debate over immigration policy. He called the issue one "that I'm not sure either Democrats or Republicans are going to solve."
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