On Tuesday, Jeremy Hunt showed off his fluent Japanese on his state visit to the country. In a video released by the FO, he praised “Japanese politeness” and talked of his “great love” Japan. It’s not all that surprising given that his wife is Japanese, but it was certainly much better PR for the UK than Boris’s tone-deaf gaffes as Foreign Secretary.
Hunt isn’t the only politician who fancies themselves as a bit of a linguist. Here are some examples of politicians speaking foreign languages, with varying degrees of success…
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She genuinely makes no effort to modify the pronunciation at all. In fact, you can sense that she takes a kind of perverse pleasure in deliberately pronouncing – “Notre pays” as ‘notre pie’ and “Je souhaite” as ‘Je sweat’. Where’s the Gallic élan? That certain Je ne sais quoi? What we are left with is the charisma of a chronically unenthused Geography teacher forced to tag along on the annual school trip to Paris…
This is late Blair (2007): the charm faded, the Brownites at the gates, the financial crash looming. But Blair isn’t fazed! We get the impression of a Brit abroad haplessly chatting up someone in a bar, except this time the lucky lady is in fact the whole French nation (“je veux féliciter le peuple français”). His defeated eyes tell us he knows it’s all about to go very, very wrong… but things can only get better? Right Tony?
“When I’m in trouble, I recite to myself ‘μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε…’
Boris goes on to recite by heart the opening forty lines of Homer’s Iliad. And credit where credit’s due, it’s pretty impressive. It’s a shame then that during his stint as foreign secretary he didn’t have many diplomatic arrangements with the Ancient Greeks…
This is Nick Clegg speaking Spanish in 2010, not much of a surprise given his wife is Spanish. His obvious confidence and easy manner tell us that he’s excited to get stuck in as Deputy Prime Minister and that his new mate Dave is a good laugh.