Romania’s ambassador to the UK Ion Jinga has got something of a kicking in the Romanian media over his English language skills after a rather shaky appearance on US news channel CNN. Ambassador Jinga was recently talking to CNN about the ongoing horse meat scandal and with Romania looking more and more like an innocent scapegoat in the whole affair, whatever the judgment on his performance, it’s clearly an important local issue.
Reports in Romanian media have mercilessly mocked the ambassador. Journalist and commentator Cristian Tudor Popescu had some fun at the ambassador’s expense in local newspaper Gandul, running a Romanian version of Jinga’s interview replete with amusing errors.
Did the ambassador deserve it? As a native English speaker with some experience of teaching the language around the world, the teacher in me, keen to support and encourage, would be inclined to say “no.” One point that perhaps isn’t fully appreciated in Romania is how accustomed people in the English speaking world are to hearing their language spoken imperfectly on news reports. With apologies to the French, English is the modern lingua franca and thus an interview featuring better or worse spoken English is nothing unusual. The BBC, CNN and many other news channels have plenty of worse examples than ambassador Jinga’s performance.
That said, Ion Jinga spoke hesitantly and in a manner that belied a lack of confidence in speaking English. Sorry Mr. Jinga, but you wouldn’t be my first choice to recite a favorite poem. However, something I found striking about the interview was Mr Jinga’s determined efforts to speak grammatically correctly. He even made sure that he used ‘whom’ accurately. So top marks for effort, but why bother? I’d always go for getting the message across over worrying too much about being 100 percent accurate. In this case, Mr Jinga’s speech was both inaccurate and halting, I’d have advised making a few more mistakes if it resulted in an easier more fluid delivery. He wasn’t the only one to make a language mistake – the interviewer pronounced his name as “hinga,” reminiscent of the aspirated Spanish ‘j’ as opposed to pronouncing it more like the ‘j’ in the French ‘jardin,’ which I am told is closer to the correct Romanian pronunciation.
So let’s raise a cheer for having a try. I know that personally I’ve been hugely impressed with the standard of English I’ve encountered many times in many parts of the world, particularly when I compare them to my own foreign language efforts. Strange tongue would indeed describe my pronunciation and although often functional, my spoken foreign languages are far from pretty. Ultimately, in my opinion, the goal is to communicate and, in my experience, embarrassment is a major obstacle when learning to speak another language. I believe accepting the possibility of sounding foolish is a vital step on the long but undeniably worthwhile journey to learning a foreign language. So good luck to Ion Jinga and everyone else battling with a foreign language!
Watch Ion Jinga’s interview below.
Liam Lever, firstname.lastname@example.org