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Spanish — And Latinos — Should Be More Than An Election Year Afterthought, Group Says

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A Latino advocacy group wants more lawmakers to learn to speak Spanish, not just to pull out a few awkward words when they run for office. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Urging members of Congress to learn Spanish is part of an effort to get them to engage more with their Latino constituents year-round. Danny Friedman is the managing director of the group leading the push, Voto Latino.

DANNY FRIEDMAN: We don't want folks to only think about how they talk with our community at campaign time.

SUMMERS: He's talking about those awkward moments on the campaign trail that have gone viral. Voto Latino pulled together some of them in a new video, like when Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced herself to the Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: In fourth grade, my name was Elena. They gave me the name, me llamo Elena.

SUMMERS: ...Or former Vice President Mike Pence asking for four more years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: Cuatro anos mas.

SUMMERS: Voto Latino teamed up with the language-learning app Duolingo in reaching out to congressional campaign committees. And just to note, Duolingo is an NPR financial supporter.

While more than 40 million people who live in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, polling suggests that a candidate's ability to speak the language was not a priority for Latinos during the most recent presidential race. Victoria Defrancesco Soto at the University of Texas points out that the notion of who speaks Spanish and who doesn't is deeply personal for many.

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO: I desperately want my children to be bilingual. I've tried, and I'll keep trying, but it's been something that is very painful for me. And I am as proud as can be about my Latino heritage. But the Spanish language issue is one that is very delicate.

SUMMERS: She says that more important than language is the ability of a lawmaker to make consistent, substantive outreach to Latinos. Juana Summers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.