Le PM parle le français

Yesterday I came across a video on YouTube of Tony Blair congratulating Nicolas Sarkozy, in French, for his victory in the recent French presidential election. I didn’t know that old Tony could speak any other language other than English, but he seems to speak French pretty fluently, with quite an English accent.

He starts the video with the following:

Bonjour à tous. J’ai décidé de me risquer à vous adresser ce message en français, ce qui est peut-être une bien mauvaise idée.

This suggests that he isn’t entirely confident about his French abilities, or maybe he’s just being modest.

I wonder if Tony actually speaks French when on official visits to France or other French-speaking countries. Or does he use interpreters.

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This entry was posted in French, Language.

14 Responses to Le PM parle le français

  1. Polly says:

    Unless a major diplomat’s L2 skills are beyond question, I would think they’d want to work with interpreters.
    International relations are not somewhere anyone wants to experiment or take chances. Potential risks are far greater than simple embarrassment due to a gaffe.
    Our own JFK’s declaration that he is, in fact, a pastry, should suffice in warding off any future attempts by American presidents, at least, from honing their skills on taxpayer dollars. :)

  2. Ben L. says:

    I don’t think people conduct diplomacy in their own language without retinues of aids to interpret what the talking heads are actually saying, much less when going between languages! Practically speaking, unless a person has native-level proficiency in a second language, it would not be advisable for them to attempt to engage in any diplomacy outside of the dinner table and prepared speaches (prepared by native speakers!). That said, I admit I have no first-hand knowledge of Mr. Blair’s practices in this area.

  3. Ben L. says:

    Sorry, “aides”.

  4. Joe says:

    I would assume if it was casual conversation, then perhaps he might put his own French to use. However, as everyone else has said, the art of diplomacy is tricky enough even when you speak the same language. There’s really very little room for slip ups, so I assume that heads of state and diplomats prefer the use of interpreters, even if it’s as a security blanket, rather than risk a serious misunderstanding.

    I once noticed that at a meeting between Bush and Jacques Chirac, Chirac spoke in French and had an interpreter translate for him, although Chirac himself does know English.

    This wasn’t the same state visit as the time Chirac and Bush held a press conference in Washington and some NBC news correspondent posed a question to Chirac en français to which Bush responded with a “¡Que bueno!”

    Although Bush speaks Spanish (insert room for lots of jokes such as “Hopefully better than his English”) I’m not sure if he’s used interpreters with Spanish-speaking heads of state but my guess would be yes. His brother, Jeb, who was the governor of Florida up until January was quite at ease speaking in Spanish in public press conferences and the like, although he is married to a native Spanish speaker.

    Anyway, I saw the Blair video and was pretty impressed with his French, I didn’t know he spoke it. The Queen speaks French fluently herself, because doing research I found she’s addressed Canadians in both English and French, though I’ve never heard hers. But then, many of Europe’s monarchs are multilingual in several languages.

  5. TJ says:

    I heard that on official visits for one president to another, the use of interpreters is an official thing. Meaning, even if both of the presidents speak each other’s language, they have to use interpreters. It’s like a protocol thing! Unless of course it was away from the eyes of the cameras or so I think!

  6. Nishiki says:

    Speaking a foreign language with a slight accent of one’s mother tongue is sometimes unavoidable, as long as you can speak it clear and fluent, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    I speak French and English with Mandarin accent, but then I have heard many people that said my Mandarin has a strange accent!

  7. céline says:

    Not bad at all Tony. And Simon, your blog looks absolutely gorgeous. Congratulations!

  8. Mike says:

    Within Canada’s parliament it’s kind of personal choice if you want the earphone interpreter or not. Most MPs do choose to wear it, but I’ve rarely seen the PM wear one in session. They (PMs) are supposed to be fluent in both languages, however some (Stephen Harper) seem to have expanded the meaning of fluency. I’m pretty sure Jean Chrétien did not use interpreters when dealing with English diplomats. Though he was certainly fluent (despite all his grammatical blunderings, which were also heavily present in French as well), he was obviously far from a native speaker (Quite different from PE Trudeau).
    I wonder what’s the protocol in Belgium’s parliament. Are MPs allowed to speak in whichever language they choose. Do they use earphone interpreters? Is the PM “understood” to speak Dutch and French fluently? And my God, what about Switzerland?!

  9. Colm says:

    The Belgium model is much more:

    French/ Flemish, next English, thirdly Flemish/ French

    I don’t know about Switzerland but I guess it’s something similar. Whenever I go on holidays in Switzerland or Beligum I very much get the sense each linguistic region very much does it own thing.

    Wow, très bien Tony! J’savais pas que tu puisse parler français!

  10. Colm says:

    Goddamn typos! :-/

  11. Josh says:

    Wow- Si j’étais vous, j’aurais evité un tel gros mot, moi.

  12. Colm says:

    Josh? tel gros mot? quoi? :-s

  13. Stuart says:

    Tony Blair lived and worked in France in his younger days for a while, and picked up his fluency then

  14. Polly says:

    Josh? tel gros mot? quoi? :-s

    I think he was referring to your “goddamn” post. :-P