A sign-language interpreter and a multilingual instruction panel at a UNESCO conference, 1997 / Reuters
Vladimir Putin’s emergency German language interjections during a recent heated interview with an Austrian journalist has begged the question: Which other world leaders have rolled out a foreign language, for better or for worse?
At times, the Russian president’s conversation with Armin Wolf, from Austria’s state ORF channel, became so contentious that Putin found himself switching to Wolf’s native tongue in order to get a word in. The Russian president is fluent in German.
But Putin isn’t the only world leader who has practice in conjugating verbs from faraway lands.
READ MORE: Top quotes from Putin’s Austrian interview – so tense he had to resort to German to make his point
Macron dreams of gobbling up Australian PM’s wife?
Just to be very clear: French President Emmanuel Macron speaks good English. He even addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress for 45 minutes – using the language of Shakespeare.
But we all jumble our words sometimes, and Macron is no exception. During a brief visit to Australia in May, Macron thanked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for his hospitality and even gave a diplomatic shout-out to Turnbull’s apparently scrumptious wife.
“I want to thank you for your welcome, thank you and your delicious wife for your warm welcome,” Macron told the Australian prime minister.
The unusual choice of adjective likely has an innocent explanation: moments earlier, Turnbгll had announced that Macron would be lunching with members of Sydney’s French community. Another factor that may have contributed to the harmless gaffe is the fact that the French word for delicious — delicieux — also translates as “delightful.”
Either way, once you imagine an insatiable Macron nibbling on Mrs. Turnbull’s toes, the image will be burned into your mind forever. You’re welcome!
Trump’s Art of Only Speaking English
US President Donald Trump has conquered the worlds of business and politics with one language and one language only: whatever language they used to make ‘The Apprentice.’ But luckily for Trump, he always has his Slovenian wife to help if Google translate is malfunctioning. According to reports, Melania can speak English, French, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian and German.
And while Trump may be gearing up for an all-out trade war with China, his granddaughter has apparently decided to “hedge her bets” – by learning Mandarin.
Merkel mixes it up with Russian and English
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been known to deploy a bit of diplomatic Russian from time to time. She’s switched to Russian – which she picked up during her upbringing in East Germany – on multiple occasions over the years while speaking with Putin.
But the German leader has also displayed a level of proficiency in English. She even addressed the British Parliament using the Queen’s English. (Rumor has it that she still can’t pronounce “Brexit,” though.)
Juncker: You’re multilingual? Cool. Don’t be a snob, though
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourgish politician who has served as president of the European Commission since 2014, is fluent in French, German and English, in addition to his native Luxembourgish. But with great linguistic ability comes greater responsibility, and Juncker learned this the hard way while giving a speech last year.
“Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” Juncker told a conference in Florence in May 2017, speaking in English before switching to French. Seen as a jab against Brexit, Juncker apparently caught hell for the quip.
“I gave a speech in Florence in May and I was saying as English is slowly disappearing from Europe I will express myself in French. The French were happy. The British – I had a shitstorm coming from the other side of the Channel,” he told students in his native Luxembourg in October 2017.
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