On the Plane

Speaking the Language

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Thanks for all the comments on the blog so far. It's great to see the interest. Keep them coming.

A few readers raised the question about why we send reporters to places where they don't speak the language. The Post certainly prefers it when reporters speak the language of the place they're covering and many of our foreign correspondents are truly gifted linguists. The paper makes a commitment to training in many cases. When I went to the Post's Moscow Bureau for four years, the paper paid for a year to study Russian full-time.

But we covered 15 nations out of the Moscow Bureau and it's just not realistic to expect that a correspondent will also be able to speak Ukrainian, Uzbek, Armenian and so on. And as one of the readers pointed out, White House reporters follow the president all around the world. Is it practical to learn how to speak Portuguese for a one-day visit to Brazil? What about his trip to Asia a while back? Can one reporter learn Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Mongolian just for a one-week trip?

That doesn't mean that we don't cover these trips from the point of view of the people on the ground, however. What we do is team up our traveling White House reporter with foreign correspondents in the places on a presidential itinerary. In this case, we have a fabulous team of Latin American correspondents providing coverage of the trip, all of them Spanish-speakers -- Monte Reel in Buenos Aires, Juan Forero in Bogota (his hometown), and Manuel Roig-Franzia in Mexico. Make sure to watch for their reports.

By  |  March 9, 2007; 5:48 PM ET  | Trip:  Bush in Latin America, March 2007
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Thanks for the update. I do hope this becomes an ongoing feature. The blogging from the plane would seem to provide insights we're not going to get in regular articles or reports.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: lmb02 | March 9, 2007 5:54 PM

how about learning another couple of languages for the heck of it?...at least the basics...ohh, ohh, too hard...by the way, einstein, do u know why the people in brazil speak portuguese and the rest of south america speaks spanish?....oooh, oooh, history...too hard...please, you guys got your heads up your a....white house correspondents....hahahahaha....

Posted by: How about | March 9, 2007 9:03 PM

Now now, lets all just play nice. Peter has a good point and after all we are Americans..well I guess so are the Central and South...but you get my point or as the old joke goes

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?


What do you call someone who speaks one language?


Posted by: WOW | March 9, 2007 9:45 PM

I was just wondering if you guys have left for Montevideo, Uruguay or still in Brazil? and can gives some insight about these kind of trips that are often not reported.


Posted by: Guddu | March 9, 2007 10:32 PM

What do you call someone who speaks one language poorly?


Posted by: nicole | March 9, 2007 10:58 PM

I think that America will not solve the problem policies relatioship coming to South America... I think that America is not wellcome around here... it is what i think about that... nothing else.

Posted by: Zacharias | March 9, 2007 11:45 PM

Uruguay and Paraguay. One of them is where the Bush Family is supposed to have purchased thousands of acres of land. true? Do you see any Free Trade Protests? I thought the latest rounds of Free Trade with Peru and Brazil were a hot spot. I know Chavez has used that hatred to his advantage. And I have to ask. I have to ask. I have to ask. In Uruguay, do they speak German? They all seem to be on horseback. Blond and Stout. German names. Is it like that? And they are eating huge beef steaks. Is it like that?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 10, 2007 12:43 AM

Sorry WP reporter, your defense of English only reporting just doesn't cut it. To be blunt LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE. I am an expat living in Argentina. I now speak Spanish, I do not speak Portuguese but knowing Spanish allows me to read Portuguese fairly well.
You don't want to learn a language for a one day trip? What about the time you should be spending doing background checks on the countries you will visit? Shouldn't some of that be done in the local language (i.e. primary sources, not the internet). I feel no empathy towards you at all ... LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE.
BTW if see "FUERA BUSH" in the Spanish speaking countries, that is the same as FORA BUSH in Brazil.
In truth, your article was lacking in any insight (other than the fact you don't want to waste your time learning) and a complete waste of my time.

Posted by: Mark | March 10, 2007 12:51 AM

You understate the deep animosity here toward Bush and America, which overthrew democratically elected governments here and throughout the region and installed, trained and propped up vicious military regimes that torturd and killed tens of thousands in the 60s, 70s and 80s. We Brazilians universally despise Bush. Our president and governing party have opposed his crimes in Iraq, his violation of international law, his pro-global warming policies. If you had any Portuguese-speaking reporters on the ground, you might get a better sense of this than relying, as you do, on go-betweens to interpret goings on in the second-largest nation in the hemisphere.

Posted by: Sergio | March 10, 2007 3:19 AM

Your blog is getting harder to find. I had to come to it through Dan Froomkin, who is the best thing about the Post these days, and I grew up reading it during the 1960s. Lots of comments on the one day when people were debating the goodness/evil of America, but it's dropped off since.

At the risk of reviving an old topic, America is hated down here too. Aussies regard the U.S. as you would a formerly favourite uncle who turned out to be a kiddie fiddler. I'm an American who emigrated here in 2005 because my conscience would no longer let me be a tax-paying cog in the war machine. I can put up with the "piss-taking" because I bag Bush better than anyone else. Still, it's sad to see how America's rep has fallen even in a country that used to idolise it.

Which brings me to the point I was going to make. On the international news section of the Melbourne Age (the more leftwing of the two daily papers here -- the other is a Murdoch...) There was a quarter-page crowd-shot photo of a Brazilian demo, image filled with signs showing Bush with a Hitler mustache and the "S" in his name replaced with a swastika. Any photos like that being puslished in American papers? Do photogs even submit them? And because that's probably prohibidado, do you still think the U.S. is actually a land with the freest press in the world? (Assuming you ever had that delusion, of course...)

Posted by: Bukko in Australia | March 10, 2007 4:38 AM

Oooh -- how stupidly monolingual am I being? It's "prohibido" in Espanol, and perhaps "prohibidao" in Portugese? Aussies are also extremely monolingual, to the point of having difficulty pronouncing names more complex than Smith or Jones. In a land full of immigrants with names like Koutsiafares, it's a drawback. I speak French, which is useless outside of Europe and Quebec, with a smattering of Spanish and medical Italian. People here (and in the U.S.) look at me like I'm exceptional. It's something about living in an isolated land where your native tongue is the world's dominant language (at least until the downfall of the U.S.)

Posted by: Bukko in Australia | March 10, 2007 5:29 AM

one year of learning another language doesn´t make anybody a bilingual...(I cannot imagine speaking russian after one year of studying it...sorry) America consists of North, Central and South...there are more people speaking spanish in this continent than english...it is ESSENTIAL for reporters to understand and speak the language of the host country...otherwise it is an insult...

Posted by: alicia | March 10, 2007 7:05 AM

Just a quick offer...

If the Post is looking for a homegrown journalist who speaks Portuguese (a language spoken by well over 200 million people worldwide)... here I am! :)

Posted by: American in Brazil | March 10, 2007 12:20 PM

Good grief! If nobody in the White House press corps that is part of Bush's retinue can speak Portuguese, doesn't the Post have a local stringer in Brazil? Brazil is, after all, a large country.

Mind you, I don't think it's simply language ignorance and incompetence that cause reports (such as one from the AP from Uruguay) stating that "Leftists in Uruguay oppose Bush's visit. Some in Latin America still blame Washington for tolerating brutal military governments such as the Argentina's dictatorship of 1976-83, when thousands of dissidents disappeared."

Washington did not "tolerate" brutal military dictatorships: it installed them, beginning with the overthrow of the democratic government of Brazil in 1964 and its replacement with a military dictatorship (President Johnson even congratulated the coup leaders before they had carried out the putsch), followed by the Pinochet coup against the democratic government of Chile in 1973, and the piece-by-piece overthrow of democracy in Uruguay in the early 1970s. In that case the Nixon administration had dispatched the notorious Dan Mitrione to train death squad and torture techniques to the Uruguayan police, as the US authorities were doing all over Latin America, as Mitrione himself had done earlier in Brazil and in the Dominican Republic after the 1965 US invasion of that country to prevent the democratically elected government from taking power. In 1976, the US authorities, collaborating with major US and British banks, overthrew the democratically elected government of Argentina after a two-year campaign of orchestrated economic sabotage and training of death squads.

If US semi-official and establishment reporters and editors do not know this, it is because, as George Orwell declared, nationalists not only have no difficulty explaining away atrocities committed by their own side, they have an amazing ability never to have heard of the atrocities.

Posted by: Marco | March 10, 2007 8:28 PM

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