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Germany's new FM refuses to speak in English when in Germany
Thread poster: Anil Gidwani

Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 10:16
German to English
+ ...
Oct 5, 2009

Here's an interesting article about the refusal by the new German FM, Guido Westerwelle, to speak to reporters in Germany in English. "My view is that German should be spoken at official events in Germany," the leader of the pro-business party told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Interestingly, this view is echoed by some politicians in India as well with respect to Hindi. Prime Minister Vajpayee was the first Indian leader to speak in Hindi at the United Nations in the early part of this decade. This linguistic approach carries over into states in India as well, with local politicians preferring to speak in the state language rather than in Hindi or English, the national languages of India.

Here is a link to the article:

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/288650,germanys-new-number-two-defends-refusal-to-speak-english.html


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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 10:16
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A windfall for a fortunate interpreter Oct 5, 2009

It was apparently a stroke of luck for an interpreter:

Guido Westerwelle refused to answer a question in English at his debut press conference. In the end, the unfortunate BBC reporter was forced to use a translator.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/tony-paterson-from-big-brother--to-foreign-minister-1794708.html

Methinks this augurs well for GermanEnglish interpreters!


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VoiceTex
Germany
Local time: 05:46
English to German
+ ...
Guido is right Oct 5, 2009

Well, "forced" is a strong word.
She [the interpreter] had been sitting next to him during the entire press conference and obviously been there to interpret the other journalists' questions and the corresponding answers.

What I've been asking myself is: Why did the BBC send someone to a German press conference in Germany who does not speak German?

Some time ago, Guido Westerwelle said that he would be more than happy to chat in English during the coffee break or at some inofficial environment.
But not during something official as a press conference.

That's what interpreters are for, isn't it?
To leave the speaker room to think and express his thoughts accordingly in his native language without having to worry about grammar or correct terminology in some foreign language.

I think it just shows courage to fall back on a mediation person like an interpreter.

[Bearbeitet am 2009-10-05 19:28 GMT]

[Bearbeitet am 2009-10-06 13:57 GMT]


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xxxhazmatgerman
Local time: 05:46
English to German
And Oct 6, 2009

he refused rightly so. A reporter working abroad that does not speak the guest country's language is unable to report on this country with any degree of first-hand experience. It's a shame the Beeb has such people working for them.
On top of this, why should any politico run the risk of using any other than his native tongue for public statements? That's precisely what language service professionals are there for, right?
Regards


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kleiner Kater
Chile
Local time: 00:46
English to Spanish
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I would've done the same thing Oct 6, 2009

Why the heck would he have to hold a press conference and/or answers questions in English if he's German and he's in Germany?
That is absolutely ridiculous. Is the U.S President expected to answer questions in Russian when he's in the United States? I don't think so. Is the King of Spain expected to answer questions in French when he's in Spain? I don't think so.
You should always be proud of your mother language. And German is indeed a beautiful language. If I were him, I'd have done the same thing.
Besides, that's what intepreters are for.

[Editado a las 2009-10-06 15:30 GMT]


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Monika Elisabeth Sieger  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:46
Member (2009)
English to German
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Have you heard his horrifying English? Oct 6, 2009

I think it was for the best of all Germans and the journalists that Mr Westerwelle did not speak any English in the public. Have you ever heard him speaking English? It is a disgrace to every more or less educated German.
To the real point of my answer:
As there was an interpreter present everybody should have used this interpreter instead of starting a war on languages!
As this was not an international press conference I think it was in some ways acceptable for him to refuse to answer questions not asked in German. And, why on earth, did the BBC send a journalist who was obviusly unable to speak German? Therefore, the BBC shouldn't complaint about being refused an answer.
If you are in Rome, do it as the Romans.
I have discussed a lot with other translators over the last few days on his behaviour and I was told that I am wrong in my opinion on refusing to answer a question in a foreign language. I still think langauage skills are essential for a politician who aims to become the new Foreign Secreatry of Germany (although I am not keen on this perspective) but as normally national press conferences are being held in tha native tongue of the country in which the press conference is held it is acceptable to refuse to answer such questions. It was the attitude of Mr Westerwelle, which drove me mad.
Or do we all think that President Obama or Gordon Brown would answer questions on a normal press conference on national level in German, Spanish or Italian being in Washington or London?


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esperantisto  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:46
Member (2006)
English to Russian
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The question is Oct 7, 2009

sivara wrote:
Have you heard his horrifying English? 6 Oct


Indeed, why would anyone speak horrifying English when being capable of speaking splendid German?


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:46
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Soundbites Oct 7, 2009

Anil Gidwani wrote:
Here's an interesting article about the refusal by the new German FM, Guido Westerwelle, to speak to reporters in Germany in English.


I applaud his attitude of speaking in German and not English, but let's get our facts straight here. His actions are short sighted, and here's why: The reporter in question didn't expect him to speak in English all the time. All she wanted was for him to say something short in English that she can let her employer broadcast in her home country.

It's called a soundbite, and it is normal in a certain style of news broadcasting. When reporting about the event, the event is summarised in voice-over by a local person, accompanied by muted video material, followed or interrupted by a short piece of sounded video (i.e. the soundbite) that uses the actual sound recorded at the event. I guess this gives the news viewer a sense of having been there.

The FM would do his country a world of good if he just prepares a short sentence or two in English (and perhaps in a few other languages) that he can add to the end of his speech for journos to record. Otherwise the reporter is forced use some other video material for the soundbite, eg a shot of people entering or exiting a building, with accompanying street sounds.

And if for any unforeseen reason the news programme's broadcasting time is reduced, and the programme chief needs to drop a segment from the news bulletin, you can guess what will happen to the inset with the boring soundbite.


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Kay Barbara
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:46
Member (2008)
English to German
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A world of good? Oct 7, 2009

Samuel Murray wrote:

The FM would do his country a world of good if he just prepares a short sentence or two in English (and perhaps in a few other languages) that he can add to the end of his speech for journos to record.


I find it hard to believe that this would in any way have had an impact on international relations. What would the "world of good" be?

I am still waiting for Brown/Obama/ to issue statements in German or Chinese or... you catch my drift? I think there is no denying the fact that the BBC just made a mess of it. They could have texted the translated question to the journalist's mobile within a few minutes and he could have read it out (even with a strong English accent this would IMO have been no problem to understand). Poor preparation is what I call this.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:46
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Erm, hyperbole? Oct 7, 2009

Kay Barbara, Dipl.-Übersetzer wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
The FM would do his country a world of good...

I find it hard to believe that this would in any way have had an impact on international relations. What would the "world of good" be?


That something does something else "a world of good" is a common hyperbole in English. It means that something will be an improvement (however small).


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British Diana
Germany
Local time: 05:46
German to English
+ ...
Hardly any British youngsters study languages any more! Oct 7, 2009

There is another aspect to this discussion, which was emphasised in the follow-up Independent article by Philip Hensher on October 1:

"The numbers studying German at universities have fallen from 2,288 in 1998 to 610 last year. Those taking A-level showed similar collapses (....) with German taking the biggest hit."

It could be that even foreign correspondents of the BBC are no longer fluent in the language of the country they are sent to and have to resort to English.

As someone who studied German and French in England many years ago and can see how hard German children work on their (up to 4) languages at school today, I think this is terrible.

.....Even if it means that there will be no shortage of jobs for translators and interpreters with English as one of their languages in the future.


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British Diana
Germany
Local time: 05:46
German to English
+ ...
Is Teutonic German? beware of snark! Oct 7, 2009

As we are all linguists on this forum, I must point out that the arguments put forward by Tony Paterson in the original article are at the least polemic and at worst an example of snark.

Referring to Guido Westerwelle as "Big Brother housemate"(even if it were true), "gay leader" (complete with picture of him and his husband) or "permatanned" is a cheap way to score off him. These attributes are being used to discredit the man and have absolutely no bearing on the issue.

And beware of any British journalist who used the word "teutonic" instead of "German". It is not an objective term but is used in a derogatory or (at best) ironical way.

Diana


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Uwe Schwenk
Local time: 22:46
English to German
Reminds me of Willy Brandt Oct 7, 2009

Willy Brandt was the chancellor of West Germany, mayor of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

The champion of international cooperation and understanding, Brandt was ever the proud German, and astute politician.

As he once said: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”


Therefore, I think it is perfectly OK to speak at an Event in Germany for a German Audience in German.

Uwe

[Edited at 2009-10-07 15:24 GMT]


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svenfrade  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:46
French to German
+ ...
And would speaking English have saved him from these derogatory remarks...? Oct 8, 2009

British Diana wrote:

As we are all linguists on this forum, I must point out that the arguments put forward by Tony Paterson in the original article are at the least polemic and at worst an example of snark.

Referring to Guido Westerwelle as "Big Brother housemate"(even if it were true), "gay leader" (complete with picture of him and his husband) or "permatanned" is a cheap way to score off him. These attributes are being used to discredit the man and have absolutely no bearing on the issue.

And beware of any British journalist who used the word "teutonic" instead of "German". It is not an objective term but is used in a derogatory or (at best) ironical way.

Diana


I doubt it. Some journalists would have jumped at the chance to throw in some more or less nasty comments on his "teutonic" accent for good measure ...


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:46
Member
English to Turkish
Wasn't it Adenauer who said that? Oct 12, 2009

Uwe Schwenk wrote:

Willy Brandt was the chancellor of West Germany, mayor of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

The champion of international cooperation and understanding, Brandt was ever the proud German, and astute politician.

As he once said: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”


Therefore, I think it is perfectly OK to speak at an Event in Germany for a German Audience in German.

Uwe

[Edited at 2009-10-07 15:24 GMT]


More importantly, if Westerwelle is holding the press conference, then isn't he the selling party?

This said, there are certainly many issues surrounding 'language', like identity, nationalism, power, pride, etc. But sometimes it is for simply what it is for: communication. Therefore, I believe that Samuel might have a point here and also that Westerwelle's attitude is a hyperbole in itself, as is the applause he receives for this

[Edited at 2009-10-12 15:02 GMT]


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