How can a lack of linguistic knowledge affect political credibility?

confusedLooking at the past century in particular, one can notice that lots of positive changes have been made in the fields of economics and politics. The League of Nations, founded at the end of the First World War, evolving into the United Nations we know today as well as the European Coal and Steel Community founded in 1950 turning into the European Union are perfect examples of this evolution. How come, however, that countries such as the United States of America or even England have diplomats that severely lack foreign language skills ?

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in England, recently quoted by the BBC news, has stated that the knowledge and fluency of different languages would “command respect” and thus give diplomatic posts more credibility. The Telegraph also released an article stating that in the UK, only 1 in 40 diplomats are fluent in the language of the country they work in, the source of these statistics did not get mentioned however.

The same concerns were also voiced in 2006 in Australia. As the newspaper The Age reported that some ambassadors were unable to hold basic conversations in languages of their hosting countries. The blame was put on the cutbacks implemented at the time and the lack of focus within the departments. It should be noted that the lack of financial investment from the government was also the reason invoked by the UK to explain the lack of fluency and proficiency in several foreign languages.

Some more news on the subject is reported on a daily basis. It is obvious that diplomatic posts are playing a more important role today than a century ago, and the likelihood of that role decreasing in importance is very slim. However, with government budget cuts being implemented and affecting this sector, does it also become harder for people holding these posts to become proficient enough in several languages.

As you may have noticed, the solution is very obvious on paper, but not so much in practice as it turns out. How would you deal with this particular issue?

Article written by Nigel Marneef, trainee at TermCoord

About TermCoord

The Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Schuman Building on Place de l'Europe, Luxembourg
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