Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is trying to assuage Latinos over recent comments on bilingual education by delivering a video statement -- in Spanish and English -- in which he concedes his word choice was "poor."
In the statement, posted Wednesday on YouTube, Gingrich said his comments were not an "attack" on Spanish, and he revealed he has been taking Spanish lessons "for some time now."
"I know that my Spanish is not perfect, but I am studying so it will be better," he said.
At no point does Gingrich offer an outright apology in either language.
In a speech Saturday to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich said English should be the language exclusively used by government in the United States.
He also said bilingual education should be replaced 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's remarks, particularly his use of the word "ghetto," have drawn fire from Latino groups. While the former speaker did not directly apologize in his statement, he did concede that "my word choice was poor."
"But my point was simply this -- in the United States, it is important to speak the English language well in order to advance and have success," he said. "This is an expression of support for Latinos, not an attack on their language. I have never believed that Spanish is a language of people of low incomes, nor a language without beauty."
Gingrich also said, "It was not my intention to offend the Latino community, and I hope you accept this message in the manner in which it is being conveyed, with a sincere heart."
Gingrich, a Georgian who led House Republicans into power in 1994, has said he will announce by September whether he will seek the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in early March showed Gingrich was the choice of 9 percent of likely Republican voters nationwide, which put him in a tie for third place with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney but well behind the front-runners, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
However, the poll also showed Gingrich, who was a polarizing figure during his years in Congress, had the highest negative ratings of any of the potential GOP candidates, with 43 percent of Americans viewing him unfavorably and just 25 percent favorably. Even a third of registered Republicans had a negative opinion of Gingrich, the poll found.