How do ambassadors learn foreign languages

Diplomatic training in Tegel : "Everyone should be able to work in French"

When a German diplomat takes up his new post anywhere in the world, he usually first contacts the French embassy there. It's not written anywhere, it has worked so well. In the Foreign Service Academy in Tegel, where the next generation is trained, it is said: "C’est le réflexe franco-allemand."

Since the Treaty of Versailles was also formulated in English in 1919, it has been said that French has been on the decline as the language of diplomacy. But it's not that simple, in Germany the language follows a boom of personal friendships: Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle. Kohl and Mitterrand. Merkel and Macron. Every diplomat has to be “able to work” after his training in French to this day.

On the Foreign Office's training grounds in Tegel, the fresh “bonjour, monsieur” sounds like a casual thing. In truth, it's an echo. It applies to the teacher Heinrich Rohrbach. One capacity and one institution. It is the echo of almost 40 years of work.

Rohrbach himself fends off modestly, but the fact is that all German diplomats who have been trained in the last 40 years have passed through his hands. He started teaching at the Foreign Office in Bonn Ippendorf in 1978. From 1984 he coordinated its language school until 2014. He was responsible for language training when Foreign Minister Genscher said in 1990: I don't want the old GDR diplomats. But he definitely wanted newly trained diplomats from the new federal states and invested in intensive training. “Today no differences can be heard.” Rohrbach also redesigned his teaching when the formal language of the 80s was replaced by “public diplomacy”, a kind of image work by the government aimed at the public abroad.

Grammar is not an end in itself

At some point the office wanted more so-called third languages ​​as qualifications for the applicants: Asian languages, Arabic. There was a risk that any additional language would come at the expense of French. They only have 14 months in the Foreign Office to enable their diplomats to act. “Not everyone can achieve perfection, but everyone should be able to work in French,” says Rohrbach. Being able to work means: conducting a bilateral negotiation, understanding native speakers in Europe and Africa, summarizing a text, drafting a speech and being able to answer a counterpart in the appropriate language. “Grammar is not an end in itself; it is explained when it is necessary. ”The diplomat serves the country and the language serves the diplomat.

With Heinrich Rohrbach - it is said that he liked to be called "Henri" at the time - a new order came into the teaching material. Glossaries used to be alphabetical, the Federal Foreign Office's workbook is now sorted by topic and situation: visa issues, plane crashes, school inauguration, missing citizens, natural disasters. They are each special vocabulary. The 72nd year is currently being taught in the house. It is about the imprisonment of a journalist in Turkey. How do you express this in different degrees? How do you explain the reasons? “We have to work with authentic texts,” says Rohrbach. In the past, there was little original material available and it took a long time to find it. There are so many sources today. It takes time to choose them.

In terms of content, a teacher must be a sparring partner

“The language lessons are also a kind of playground,” says Rohrbach. A teacher in the Federal Foreign Office must be a sparring partner in terms of content. The highly qualified schoolchildren expected their teachers “to know about factual issues right away.” Rohrbach is still inspired by this relevance even after his retirement.

Languages ​​are the cogs in the clockwork of diplomacy. The crux of the matter is translation. Towards the end of their training, some have the opportunity to spend time in the French Foreign Ministry on Quai D’Orsay; they then sometimes even get to know the person who does their own later task in reverse in France. Anyone who already discovers common foundations in the language will later find what Rohrbach calls "expandable intersections" more easily, even with opposing interests.

Isn't all diplomacy about “expandable intersections?” The Franco-German European tandem, which Macron has just described as the engine for Europe, would be inconceivable if diplomats had not practiced proximity in the last 40 years.

Rohrbach came as a teenager from his small town Hünfeld near Fulda to the Breton twin town of Landerneau. It sparked straight away. “The future of the Franco-German relationship lies in programs like this.” In personal proximity, what later means friendship among peoples develops. Rohrbach folds into his Smart. The radio station RFI, Radio France International, starts up with the engine. You have to stay inside.

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