Languages in politics

Brits are not known for speaking other languages; we consistently rank as some of the worst language learners in Europe. Therefore, one sure fire way to impress your foreign counterpart would be to demonstrate your willingness to converse in their language.

This is the approach that Boris Johnson, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, took when meeting his counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault in Paris recently.

The French Foreign Secretary has openly criticised Johnson in the past, so all eyes were on them during their meeting in Paris, in order to discuss terrorism and border controls.

Languages in politics

Experts agreed that Johnson’s French was slightly elementary at the beginning, however it was seen to improve as he continued his speech. Another British politician who can speak in French is Tony Blair, an ability which he has demonstrated numerous times. In terms of sheer languages, Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, is truly head and shoulders above other British politicians. He is able to converse in; French, Dutch, German, and Spanish.

Although it is fairly uncommon to see a multilingual British politician, it is a far more usual sight in other countries. Some examples of multilingual politicians are as follows:

Multilingual US Presidents

Obama isn’t the first US President to speak more than 1 language. Thomas Jefferson spoke over 5 languages and Herbert Hoover and his wife spoke in Mandarin to each other when they wanted to keep conversations private.

Hopeful Presidential candidates have been advised to try and engage with the local communities through language, when on the campaign trail.

Advice which Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, took on board when he addressed the crowds in Spanish earlier this year in Miami – a good move, considering approximately 40 million people in the US speak Spanish.

Learning another language is incredibly beneficial on the world stage, after all, not all business takes place in English. It not only shows respect, but it also conveys a willingness and seriousness to do business.

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