MARCH 24, 1958
NEW YORK—A State Department group, whose budget has been out frequently because Representative John J. Rooney (D., N.Y.) apparently does not consider foreign languages important for diplomats, had a chance last week to tell of its woes to the President.
The President, who seemed shocked at the record given him on the lack of ability of our foreign service officers to speak the language to which they are assigned, said he would talk to Mr. Rooney about it.
This is not the first time I have heard of Mr. Rooney's inability to understand the needs of the department over whose finances he presides as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee. I am told that Mr. Rooney, who comes from the 14th District, Kings County, has been happily slashing this budget for years.
He is always less than enthusiastic about giving ambassadors the necessary language training or representational allowances, which in plain language means money to entertain not only the innumerable people (including Congressmen) who visit them from this country but natives of the country in which they are stationed, as well as their foreign colleagues.
Mr. Rooney is a very powerful man in this particular field and he can do us infinite harm. About this the Advisory Committee of the Foreign Service Institute last week tried to give the President a few stark facts.
Fifty percent of the entire foreign service officer corps does not have a speaking knowledge of any foreign language. Seventy percent of the new men coming into foreign service are in the same state.
Llewellyn. E. Thompson, U.S. ambassador to Moscow, is the only ambassador from this country in a Communist country who speaks the language of the country to which he is assigned. In the nine Arabic speaking countries, we have two ambassadors who speak the native language. Among the non-English speaking countries of the North Atlantic Treaty nations, the U.S. ambassadors do not speak the language in Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey and Greece.
The President was surprised by all this bad news, but one wonders if he has ever asked any of his appointees to diplomatic posts if they spoke the language of the country to which he planned to send them.
Our foreign servicemen do not get the training because in many cases they are not career men but political appointees. And anyone who travels knows what a drawback it is for an ambassador not to be able to speak the language of the country where he is stationed.
Let us hope that the President will be able to educate Mr. Rooney into providing sufficient funds so that all of our young foreign service officers will learn foreign languages.
But we had better begin in our schools, because that is where some of these things should be changed. It is easier to learn new languages if you begin while young.