updated 3/31/2007 4:40:34 PM ET 2007-03-31T20:40:34

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich equated bilingual education Saturday with “the language of living in a ghetto” and mocked requirements that ballots be printed in multiple languages.

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“The government should quit mandating that various documents be printed in any one of 700 languages depending on who randomly shows up” to vote, said Gingrich, who is considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He made the comments in a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women.

“The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. ... We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto,” Gingrich said to cheers from the crowd of more than 100.

“Citizenship requires passing a test on American history in English. If that’s true, then we do not have to create ballots in any language except English,” he said.

Peter Zamora, co-chair of the Washington-based Hispanic Education Coalition, which supports bilingual education, said, “The tone of his comments were very hateful. Spanish is spoken by many individuals who do not live in the ghetto.”

He said research has shown “that bilingual education is the best method of teaching English to non-English speakers.” Spanish-speakers, he said, know they need to learn English. “There’s no resistance to learning English, really, among immigrants, among native-born citizens. Everyone wants to learn English because it’s what you need to thrive in this country.”

‘Long term dangers’
In the past, Gingrich has supported making English the nation’s official language. He’s also said all American children should learn English and that other languages should be secondary in schools.

In 1995, for example, he said bilingualism poses “long term dangers to the fabric of our nation” and that “allowing bilingualism to continue to grow is very dangerous.”

Bilingual programs teach students reading, arithmetic and other basic skills in their native language so they do not fall behind while mastering English.

On voting, federal law requires districts with large populations of non-English speakers to print ballots in multiple languages.

Reports of extramarital affairs have dogged him for years as a result of two messy divorces, but he has refused to discuss them publicly.

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