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On the swabish railway – EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger February 4, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, German culture.

Several of my German colleagues alerted me to this rather humorous piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau entitled “Well done, Günther: On the swabish railway.” Günther Oettinger is a German politician and member of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU). He was appointed as an EU Commissioner in the European Commission on October 24, 2009. He recently received a lot of criticism and ridicule when he announced that English would be the working language of the Commission – and then held an atrociously articulated speech in English that no one could understand. The joke in the article above is that he needs ghostwriters and that those ghostwriters also do a terrible job with English. The links below the article to other “speeches” are just as enjoyable. Enjoy!



1. Christopher Fitzsimons - February 4, 2010

Jill, this is PRICELESS! I laughed so hard watching it. It’s almost reassuring in some ways to see that, even in Germany where many people do have an excellent grasp of English, there are still people in such important senior positions with such a woeful knowledge of foreign languages. I say this because although Mr Oettinger is clearly aware of the importance of English is our globalised world and believes that he speaks the language to a high enough level to make it the working language of the Commission, this video proves beyond any doubt that his command of English leaves a lot to be desired! As a professional translator I constantly come across people who believe that my job is easy and that their knowledge of a foreign language (which they often believe to be far superior to what it actually is in reality) is sufficient to do the same job that I have spent years studying in order to be able to do. To cut a long story short, it is an absolute joke that the working language of this commission is English. This is the perfect example of a scenario in which professional translation and interpreting services are needed! In the United Kingdom many people tend to believe that continental Europeans, especially Northern Europeans, speak English to an almost native level and many British people see the huge EU budget for translation/interpreting costs to be unnecessary, believing that a single language should be used at EU level and that the logical language to use would be English. This video, for me, entirely disproves that theory and reassures me as to quite how necessary and important us language professionals and our skills are! 🙂

2. Heike Kurtz - March 1, 2010

Christopher, I agree wholeheartedly. But on the other hand, our new foreign minister, Mr Westerwelle, was criticised quite harshly because he refused to answer questions of a BBC journalist in English at a German press conference in Germany. When he maintained his view in later interviews, stating that his English was good enough for small talk, but that he would prefer to use his mother tongue when discussing complicated political subjects, the reactions of the German public were quite adverse.

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