• Germany's news in English

Oettinger ridiculed online for atrocious English

The Local · 27 Jan 2010, 10:49

Published: 27 Jan 2010 10:49 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Watched almost a million times on YouTube already, the video shows Oettinger, the outgoing premier of the state of Baden-Württemberg, emphasising the importance of English in his new capacity as commissioner for energy issues in Brussels.

But then it cuts to the conservative politician attempting to give a recent speech in English – to largely unintelligible effect. In some passages, Oettinger appears not to understand what he’s saying himself and he begins to omit challenging words and phrases.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to nominate Oettinger to the European Commission originally sparked considerable criticism since the provincial state premier had little experience in international affairs. But he managed to win over some sceptics earlier this month by competently handling his confirmation hearings by the European Parliament. That questioning, however, took place in German.

Ironically, Oettinger's home state of Baden-Württemberg is famous for its thick Swabian accents and the region's motto is: "We can do anything - except speak High German."

Story continues below…

The online parody comes only a few months after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle faced derision for his own shaky English skills.

Westerwelle refused in September to answer a BBC reporter in English, but told him they could meet for “a fabulous tea” afterward.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

11:35 January 27, 2010 by Editor Bob
Related forum discussion here: German politician attempts to speak English
21:04 January 27, 2010 by ebermannstadt
How can he be effective! A waste of space. He can't even READ English.
21:16 January 27, 2010 by Steviegee
Oh dear!! yet another embarassing cringe...and I thought that Schwesterwelle's was bad..oops!!
21:21 January 27, 2010 by drckol
Give him a break! His English is far better than 99.9% of all Americans including those who have lived there as I have.
00:41 January 28, 2010 by Billiby
Oh no!!! That is really emberassing for all Germans! O.o

It's ok when soccer players or so aren't so great in English but politicians?? Come on... :/
09:53 January 28, 2010 by frankiep
It actually wasn't all that bad. He can at least speak better English than most native English speakers can speak German. I am a native English speaker and just think that it is the height of arrogance to expect Germans to be able to speak perfect English in their own country and to be hostile towards them if they do not. How many American or British politicians would have the ability to even try to give a speech in another language?
11:16 January 28, 2010 by rugbycoach
Frankiep, Yeah i agree its arogant for us native english speakers to expect everyone to be fluent in english...strange however that Merkel knew of this before appointing him, veiled German language protectionism again?
15:17 January 28, 2010 by LancashireLad

I agree with your arrogance comment, but I think the more important point here is that he has been appointed to an international political role. The political lingua franca is English therefore I would some level of competence in English. (Note: I have not viewed the video).

That is why his political opponents and general muck rakers are taking these pot shots at him.
16:18 January 28, 2010 by Tom Bender
I'll bet his English is better than my German. I'll give him credit for having the courage to attempt to speak English. Even if his English is perfect would we understand what he is saying. Does anything a politician say make sense.
16:58 January 29, 2010 by Audy
Anyone recall Kissinger's accent?? Oettinger's accent is the problem NOT his English, which by the way is good. It's clear to my ear that he doesn't speak in English a lot. He simply cannot get his "speaking apparatus" (tongue etc) around the words. My guess is that he is unsure of pronunciation and just needs to work on that aspect daily with a private teacher and then in a small conversational group situation.

If he's the right man for the job, the educational system should step up and offer to work with him. What an excellent example of someone bettering himself? To ridicule him is to miss the point and underscores a complete lack of understanding on the part of critics.
17:27 January 29, 2010 by Furor Teutonicus

About time we had a politician that realised that GERMAN is the language her.

The GREATEST regret in my life, is the fact that I can read, write, and speak "English".
17:43 January 29, 2010 by westfork
@Furor Teutonicus

Dass insgesamt ist Unsinn.
19:34 January 29, 2010 by HarryR
If English is the de facto international language then shouldn't professional politicians learn it, just to be able to communicate with their counterparts who have had no specific reason to learn German? Why is that arrogant?

Fluent English would be nice but is not necessary. Globish is fine. It would also be reasonable to expect a pro German politician to have at least basic French.

( It would be nice if more native English speakers made the effort to speak International English or Globish rather than their own colloquial accent/dialect which they regard as 'English'.)

That said, Oettinger's attempt isn't that bad. His mistake was to give a public reading from a text he hadn't familiarised himself with. He accent is actually OK but he is clearly reading words that he's not familiar with in the written form and pronouncing them phonetically.

I assume that even a UK politician doesn't give a speech in English without a through preparation with his/her staff first and to do so in a foreign language would just be inviting ridicule.

Can't an EU commissioner arrange for someone to transcribe a foreign text into phonetic German if he hasn't got time to at least read it through a couple of times?

I noticed that his audience still vigorously applauded at the end even though what they'd heard had been incomprehensible.
22:49 January 31, 2010 by Brian Barker
The phrase "everyone speaks English" is indeed an urban legend.

Yet people also claim "no-one speaks Esperanto" which is also untrue.
Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd