English language skills of Italian politicians?

Hi, have you also noticed that Italian politicians tend to have pretty good English language skills? CNN and the BBC are showing frequent reports of the current elections in Italy and I also hear a lot of interviews with Italian politicians on BBC radio. Listening to those programmes it occurred to me that all the Italian officials being interviewed can speak English fluently (while they maintain their unique Italian accent and intonation).

My question is, how well do the politians in your country speak English? (OK those of you from English speaking countries - you might want to tell us about the communication skills of your politicians as well).

In contrast to the Italians, the Chinese President H? Jǐntāo is giving his speech in the White House in the tradition of Socialist countries: He is reading a prepared text in his native language rather than giving a free speech. Every sentence is says is then translated by a Chinese interpreter. I think it might be more effective if the Chinese government just distributed a press release rather going through this process:

  • creating a speech and typing it up
  • rehearsing the speech
  • creating an English version of the same speech
  • reading the text at the official press conference/meeting together with the interpreter

As for the Germans, I know that some of the younger politicians, especially those from the left wing, tend to speak fluent English but I’m not so sure about the average MP.

So, what is you take on this?


TOEIC listening, question-response: Have you ever been scuba diving?[YSaerTTEW443543]

I don’t even notice it anymore when I hear a Western European, Middle Eastern or African politician who speaks good English. It’s like part of the wallpaper to me now.

You have to give some credit to Hu Jintao, because his interpreter’s English was absolutely impeccable. That used to be unusual even for official interpreters from socialist countries, especially China. (Of course, there was also that one famous catastrophe when president Jimmy Carter gave a speech in Poland through an outrageously bad interpreter. It was the joke of the year.)

What’s more interesting to me is to watch the progress in English of German corporate managers when they arrive in the States. Dieter Zetsche, now the head of DaimlerChrysler, is a good example. When he arrived in town here, he had that same rough German accent that Nazi officers have in old movies. This did no good for his image among a local public that was already angry about the German takeover of Chrysler. (The companies had lied and said it was “a merger of equals”, when in fact, Daimler Benz had bought Chrysler outright.) Having Zetsche go on the radio and talk the way he did put knots in some people’s stomachs. As time went on, Zetsche’s handlers clearly did two things with him: He appeared front and center at charity events and anything that would give him a public image as a “good corporate citizen”, and they obviously worked on his accent until it was softer and he no longer sounded to people like a “Nazi”.

Jamie, what about Arnold?
I love that guy, but even I feel funny whenever I hear that accent of his. How come you Americans don’t mind him being a governor?
I mean if one of our ministers would speak Hungarian with a foreign accent I’m not sure if we could take his speech seriously anymore.
I’m really happy for his success, I’d like him to be the president once, but I’d like to know how you Americans feel about a foreign minister in your country.

This points out something that’s different about the US and Canada from many other places. Hardly anybody here cares if you have a foreign accent. Some ESL students come here afraid to talk to Americans because they have a foreign accent, and I have to bark at them that here everybody’s grandmother had a foreign accent, so accents don’t bother anybody. As one Egyptian guy kept telling his wife, “It’s not like back home! They don’t laugh at you here!”

But that’s the mentality of people in a small country with a difficult language that relatively few foreigners learn. The Czechs are the same way. I’d stand there in the cafeteria asking for some chicken – and do it absolutely correctly – and the girl at the counter would stare at my head as if it were a big TV set, just watching the phenomenon of a foreigner speaking her language. In stores in Prague, old salesladies used to lead me by the arm to two or three coworkers and tell me to talk for them. If a Czech has been outside the country for three years or more, Czech people claim they can hear something wrong with his speech. On TV commercials, they can tell when the announcer isn’t living in their country. You don’t have this in the US.

In the first place, he can’t be president, because he wasn’t born in the US. In my ESL classes, I have students from Iraq and Senegal who were born here and will someday be qualified to be president, but Arnold can’t be.

Arnold is nothing new. We’ve had two secretaries of state (i.e., foreign ministers) who had foreign accents. Henry Kissinger had, and still has a heavy German accent. Zbigniew Brzezinski had a Polish accent. For a while, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – that means the boss of the entire US military – was John Shalikashvili. He was born in Poland of Georgian parents, and he had a Polish accent. There are other examples, but I can’t think of them right now.

Nobody cares that these people have foreign accents, because you can have a foreign accent and be American. You can even be BORN AND RAISED here and have a foreign accent. (There are towns in Michigan where even the children have Finnish or Polish accents. In other places, some native-born Americans have German accents.) Besides this, everybody knows that many immigrants are more patriotic, red-white-and-blue Americans than the people who were born here.

I agree with You, in a place where You can’t find too many emigrants it’s much stranger to hear someone who speaks with foreign accent.
But this kind of thing happened to me when I was travelling through Canada with my wife, and in Ontario in a little village we stopped by a restaurant for a lunch.
I’ve been there (in Canada) for four years already, and spoke a good english. (at least I think so)
A nice lady came out to ask me what I was standing there for, I said “I’m waiting for my wife”
She went back, and didn’t know I still can hear her, she says: He’s waiting for his wife and he doesn’t speak english.
I guess in small villages some of these “feelings” still exist, even in Canada.