Republican Candidates show off language skills before the Primaries

As the race for the Republican nomination in next year’s American Presidential election begins in earnest, an unexpected factor has come into play: could the multilingual abilities of the candidates be the deciding factor in who will run against incumbent President Obama next year?

Well, almost certainly not. It seems unlikely that the American electorate will be distracted from concerns about the economy, unemployment, and an ongoing military presence in the Middle East by the novelty of a Chinese- or French-speaker in the race (that’s Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney respectively).  Still, the current crop of hopefuls is the most linguistically capable in years – could this signal a shift in the American political class towards a more open and engaged international outlook?

Currently, there are nine declared Republican candidates, who will compete in a series of primaries and caucuses across all 50 states before the winner stands against President Obama in the November 2012 Presidential election. Prior to the first caucus, in Iowa, scheduled for 3rd January 2012, the candidates engage in a series of debates and participate in numerous high-profile events and interviews in order to gain recognition and impress voters.

It was in one such interview that Jon Huntsman publically demonstrated the proficiency in Mandarin Chinese that led to his serving as US Ambassador to China for two years. Huntsman is the only Republican contender to show such fluency in a second language, although Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and one of the front-runners to be nominee, is said to speak French to a high standard. President Obama, meanwhile, shows a passable command of Indonesian having spent four years of his childhood in Jakarta.

It is of course only in the English-speaking world that bilingual high-ups in the political system are a phenomenon worthy of remark. Most global leaders can switch between their native tongue, English, and perhaps even French, Spanish or German with a more than reasonable level of competence. The last decade has seen some catching-up however, in the UK at least. Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the occasional speech in French, whilst current Deputy PM Nick Clegg is famously fluent in five European languages: Spanish, German, Dutch and French as well as English.

Across the Atlantic, the USA also boasts a tradition of linguistically proficient leaders, although this has been gradually diminishing throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Particularly impressive Presidential examples include James A Garfield, who could write in Greek and Latin simultaneously, using both hands; John Adams, who produced Hebrew and Latin translations of Biblical and Classical texts; and Herbert Hoover, fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

It would be a brave politician or diplomat, however, who trusted his or her second language skills enough to go it alone in sensitive meetings and negotiations. There is no substitute for a truly skilled interpreter, who can accurately convey all details and nuances of meaning. At TJC Global, we have an extensive network of native-speaker interpreters and translators covering over 180 languages. All are highly experienced and qualified, with backgrounds in all kinds of specialist areas: law, engineering, medicine, technical fields, the financial and charitable sectors are only a few examples. No matter what the situation, TJC Global can connect you with an interpreter or translator ideal for your particular needs. We can be contacted on, and are always happy to discuss how we can best help your organisation.


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