Note to journalists: politicians and interpreters don't learn languages for the same reason

Friday, March 13, 2009

Michael Rubens "Mike" Bloomberg (n. Boston, Massachusetts, EE.UU., 14 de febrero de 1942), es un político independiente estadounidense. Desde el 1 de enero de 2002, es el alcalde de Nueva York. Renunció al Partido Republicano en junio de 2007. También es un hombre de negocios, fundador de la compañía de información financiera Bloomberg L.P.

You may have noticed that there are a fair amount of articles out there about New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and his quest to improve his Spanish. The reason for this is pretty obvious:
Last week, just days before the launch of his reelection campaign, the man who was listed in Forbes as the eighth-richest American in 2008 conducted his first local news conference in Spanish, without the aid of a tutor, the Associated Press reported.

His quest to learn the language stemmed from a desire for more airtime on WXTV, the Spanish-language Univision affiliate, whose ratings last fall surged past those of its English competitors on ABC, CBS and NBC for viewers younger than 49, the AP reported .

The number of the city's registered voters who are Hispanic or Latino has increased from 676,000 to 860,000 in two years -- or from 17.8 percent of the electorate to 20.5 percent.
Whether one is able to win votes from a certain community simply for speaking a certain language is a matter of debate, especially with a language like Spanish that so many have learned to at least a certain extent. Generally the rarer a language is the easier it is likely to be to win the votes from those that speak the language, since people often learn large languages for economic reasons only, whereas with smaller languages you generally only encounter people that actually love the country and its culture among those that are learning the language.

What's also interesting though is that half the time the article on Bloomberg's Spanish will deride his speaking ability:

"Before we go to questions, I would like to summarize today's announcements for some of our Spanish speakers," he says at the end of most public events.

He then launches into two sentences of Spanish that - though heavily accented and somewhat mispronounced - are sure to land him on Spanish-language TV and radio.

And another one from today:

Michael Bloomberg has been speaking a lot of Spanish in recent weeks. He now often ends press conferences with a few Spanish phrases and has been been taking questions from Spanish-speaking reporters, too. Unfortunately, despite nearly six years of one-on-one tutoring sessions, Bloomberg still has trouble spitting out a sentence without making a mistake: When he was asked about the recent snowstorm, for example, he pointed out that the "the streets have cleaned" and "it was a lot of windy." With the mayoral election fast approaching—and considering challengers like William Thompson and Anthony Weiner are taking Spanish classes, too—the mayor is going to have to do a lot better if he expects to win over the city's Latino population.
So what? Would having said "it was very windy" have won him a few extra votes? Politicians learn languages in order to 1) look good, and 2) communicate with voters. Reason #1 is pretty easy to do, as long as the politician isn't a complete flop in a language, and communicating with voters (reason #2) is happening successfully, whether he makes the odd error or not. In fact, a certain accent or the odd error can also give a person a certain charm. Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently makes efforts to preserve his accent for just that reason. Imagine the Governator with an accent like Dr. Phil's - that would be a disaster.


Although, upon hearing him speaking the language in person the accent is pretty bad.

Compare that to President Obama when he was running for office:

If people decide that a politician is learning their language in a blatant attempt to get votes though, they may decide that this is simple pandering and the attempt may backfire. For those in New York or who know some people there, what's the overall impression of Bloomberg's quest to master Spanish?

Edit: hey, his website is also available in Haitian Creole. Awesome.

Genyen de (2) bagay chak Nouyòkè konnen: sa yo se move moman, epi Nouyòk toujou ap genyen plis defi. Jodi a, nou genyen yon majistra endepandan ki fè prèv li epi ki retire nou nan moman difisil anvan epitou ki genyen yon bon vizyon pou fè vil nou vin fò. Ansanm, nou kapab leve defi yo pou pi devan.

Dosye Mike Bloomberg pale poukont li. Vil Nouyòk pa t janm gen plis sekirite - krim bese prèske a 3% depi li te pran fonksyon li. Kòm yon siy volonte li pou leve pi gwo defi yo, Mike te pran kontwòl sistèm lekòl piblik la epi kounye a nòt egzamen yo ak kantite elèv ki diplome yo ap ogmante, alòske kantite elèv ki pa reyisi yo ap diminye. Kalite lavi a amelyore toupatou nan senk (5) minisipalite yo, lari nou yo vin pi pwòp pase jan yo te ye epitou genyen nouvo pak ki kreye toupatou nan vil la.

Nan moman difisil sa yo, pwogrè kapab kontinye sèlman si Nouyòk genyen yon lidè ki vle fè bon chwa - endepandan nan politik ak enterè espesyal - ki nesesè pou fè ekonomi vil la vanse epitou pou asire nou p ap janm tounen dèyè nan move abitid pase a. Mike genyen yon bon plan pou fè vil nou an vin fò, kreye djòb epi fè Nouyòk vin menm yon pi bon kote pou viv pou nou tout.

An 2005, Mike te devlope kanpay volontè ki pi efikas ak apwofondi nan istwa vil Nouyòk. Siksè kat (4) ane li yo te vin posib akòz volontè k ap travay di tankou oumenm ki te frape nan pòt yo epi ki te rele elektè yo paske ou te kwè endepandans ak lidèchip onèt Mike se te sa vil nou an pi bezwen.

Kounye a, se moman pou ou patisipe epi pou fè vil nou an vanse. Nan ane k ap vini an, w ap genyen opòtinite pou gaye mesaj vizyon Mike pou Nouyòk avèk zanmi ou yo, vwazen ou yo ak kòlèg travay ou yo. Ansanm, antan Nouyòkè, nou kapab fè vil nou an vin fò epi asire lavni nou.

Antre nan ekip nou pou ede Mike kontinye fè Nouyòk vin yon pi bon kote toujou pou moun viv.


Unknown said...

Hahaha! Bloomberg's Spanish is terrible. He surely needs to take a lot of classes. His pronunciation is at the beginner (newbie) level.

Obama's pronunciation was much better, by far. I wonder how many times they made him repeat those sentences so that they looked good on record.

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