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Future foreign minister Westerwelle refuses to answer English question
Photo: DPA

Future foreign minister Westerwelle refuses to answer English question

Published: 28 Sep 2009 17:36 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Sep 2009 17:36 GMT+02:00

Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s newly designated foreign minister, refused to answer a question in English for a BBC reporter during his first press conference after the election, news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Monday.

Westerwelle, who heads the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), the preferred coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), was asked by the reporter how he would change Germany’s foreign policy. The reporter asked the question in English and said he would prefer an English response.

But Westerwelle apparently balked, and a second attempt by the journalist, this time with the help of a translator, garnered an answer in German.

“We could meet for a fabulous tea outside of a press conference and then speak only English...but this is Germany here,” he said.

Westerwelle has already been criticised for his broken English in the past, the magazine reported.

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Your comments about this article

05:23 October 31, 2009 by Henriette
The very great number of language courses provided in schools proves the impossibility of enabling all human beings to communicate universally, by use of national languages.

When using interpreters, the "body language" is not conveyed. Rather important.

How easy is it to learn the english language , for refugees, immigrants? and even ... Politicians who have more important tasks to attend to.

Only a neutral auxiliary language, easy to learn, error-proof, taught in all primary schools in every country, would provide our descendants with a tool for inter-national communication, whilst respecting and ensuring the continuity of all national tongues, dialects, idioms within each ethnic group.

One of the objections cited by Education Authorities to the teaching of such a language is : there is no demand from any ethnic community, no evidence of student interest. When the roman numerals were replaced by the Hindu-Arabic numerals, had the education authorities waited for public demand we would still be making long divisions with M, D, C, L, X, V, I... what fun ! In the musical world, if each member of an international orchestra read his partition in his/her own language, could harmony be achieved? Maybe it is time for Educators to take the lead in the communication area. ..

English is often suggested as the international language. English is an elegant language, it would be a pity to see it disintegrating into englishes and being spoken badly by non-native english users. To preserve its integrity, we should protect it from splitting up as Latin did.

Of course, there have been many attempts at "simplifying" English; what would become of the treasures of literature?

However, spoken and written english are dismally dissimilar, which adds to the difficulty for students learning it as a second language.

There have also been many attempts at inventing an international language. Esperanto is at present gaining ground . It is very popular in Korea, Japan, China, Bresil, Canada; surprisingly welcome in parts of the U.S.A., and getting known in Africa. In Europe, whilst Finland was hosting the E.U. it had been added to the list of languages used to publish reports.
11:33 October 31, 2009 by Henriette
EQUALITY !!! . Using english for inter-national communication gives english born speakers a huge advantage. Learning english as a second language is very time consuming, time which can be better used, and the "foreign" speaker is under additional stress, which is distracting.

By using a non national, auxiliary tongue, quick and easy to learn because it has been logically compiled, speakers are on an equal basis, no one is embarrassed at lacking the facility of expression of their interlocutor. There is no rivalry between father-tongues. Everyone keep their own, and none gets cancelled out as by a dominant language. AND for a change english-born-speakers also have to co-operate.
05:30 November 3, 2009 by Henriette
What do the last 3 lines of post # 87 have to do with the subject? A foetus is not a miniature adult. After conception, different parts of the body and brain develop independently and at different points in time. The chromosomes are not solely deciding the embryo's gender. Hormones in the mother during the whole pregnancy complete the work. Illnesses, fevers, medications, etc, come into play. Preponderant hormones at the time of unsynchronised development of the brain, and of the genital organs, give us our aligned, or divergent gender characteristics. From BRAINSEX "The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel.
04:40 November 6, 2009 by albularyo69
What? The reporter can not speak german? What an Idiot!!
01:50 November 20, 2009 by Bilboman
The point most bloggers seem to be missing is that Westerwelle showed a lack of flair and experience and opted instead for a rather feeble attempt at humour. Faced with a question from a reporter in a foreign language, he could have (i) replied deadpan in German, (ii) answered with a simple sentence or two in English and then continued in German. Most politicians I have seen in this unfortunate situation choose (i) or (ii). I would have chosen to reply "Bitte, können Sie das auf Deutsch fragen?" and thrown it straight back at the reporter. (Touché.)

I suspect the BBC reporter did not actually know for sure, at the time he asked the question, if Hr Westerwelle was fluent in English, but he simply asssumed he was. Oh well...
22:49 December 5, 2009 by Dizz
Ironic to look back on this debate a few months on, especially the bits about how bigoted nations might react to his sexuality and so on, now while Westerwelle is defending the Swiss as non-bigots just because they voted to ban the minarets.

And why is he even commenting on this? Doesn't he have enough to do at Germany's diplomatic front line that he's speaking for the Swiss?
06:27 January 14, 2010 by ZEUS
Westerwelle speaks English but a press conference in Germany is not a place for him to prove how good speaker he is. It is a standard etiquette when you are in a country you expect that the Foreign Minister will speak in the country's official language. Now if Westerwelle would make mistakes and what he should say or not say are nonsense.

The BBC reporter could ask in English(thats why there are interpreters) but he cannot demand from the Foreign Minister to respond in English. This is an outlandish lack of respect and complete lack of professionalism. Westerwelle's response to the untactful reporter to my judgment was pretty witty: if you like we can talk later in English but at this moment this is business and the official language of this place -which happens to be located in Germany-is German. I think he handled the case nicely. Imagine a reporter from France to demand from Blair who speaks some French to respond in French! !! It is about time for some English speakers to get over the illusion that English is the language of the world and it is everybody's duty to speak English. Thats why I like Americans , they stubbornly refuse to speak English.
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