Angus Robertson is a business, communication and public diplomacy consultant. Many of you will know him from his position as a Depute Leader for the Scottish Party and campaign leader for the Scotland Independence campaign.
However, I know Angus from my Beiwagerl (Austrian for a language assistant or literally sidecar) days. We met in a sleepy town in Austria called Hollabrunn for a 2-day training course back in 1992 and were consequently let loose on teaching English to Austrian teenagers in Viennese schools. After that we both stayed in Vienna and worked at Blue Danube Radio, the English-language station of the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation). I translated the weather and traffic from German into English, we both spliced newsreels from London with a razor blade, and Angus read the news.
Very few people know that Angus Robertson is bilingual. In my last blog I looked at the challenges of bringing up children bilingually as well some of the advantages and disadvantages of being bilingual. This time I met up with Angus and asked him a few questions what it was like growing up in Scotland of Scots and German heritage.
1. When you were growing up, didn’t being bilingual seem strange to you?
Growing up bilingually didn’t seem strange at all when I was very young,
speaking a different language to my mother and father wasn’t odd in the least. When I was a little older it did seem a bit curious that I should speak German with my mother when she could speak English, as did everyone else around us. When all the peer pressure at school began to have an influence it definitely stalled my language development, and had to catch up later when I was a bit older.
2. Your German is impressive. What did your parents do to ensure that you spoke the language?
As children we went to the German Church in Edinburgh, which meant we heard the language at least once a week. It was also a time when records were a good way to hear German language stories and music. Going on family holidays to see relations in Germany and Austria was a huge tangible connection as were school exchanges.
3. How would you define your cultural identity these days?
I always regarded myself as being half-Scots half-German, which has been subsequently complicated by spending 10 years living in Austria, a country I love, have a tremendous affinity with and have a great many friends there.
4. Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the EU said, “If I were again facing the challenge to integrate Europe, I would probably start with culture. Culture is the context in which things happen; out of context even legal matters lack significance. ” He said this back in the 1950s. Is it valid today?
Culture in the broadest sense is massively important, and linguistic diversity forms a big part of that. I think that Anglophones curiously suffer because of the world status of English, which leads to a great many potential language learners thinking there is no point because ‘everyone speaks English anyway’.
5. Some interculturalists on the other hand frown upon the notion of culture, saying we are all individuals and we should look at language and communication as opposed to existential differences between cultures. What do you think?
I think we should all relax and not get too hung-up on the theory. No matter what people’s cultural interests are they should pursue them, but I think the advantages of having another language will enrich people’s cultural experience, enjoyment and ability to communicate with others in their language.
6. A cheeky question – if Scotland played Germany in the World Cup where would your support lie?
Scotland, but I always wish Germany (and Austria) well.
7. Und eine letzte Frage: Haggis oder Bratwurst?
Weder noch: Käsekrainer!
When asked if he preferred haggis or Bratwurst, Angus decided neither. He prefers an Austrian sausage known as a Käsekrainer (contains melted cheese).
About Vanessa Paisley:
Vanessa is an intercultural and relocation specialist who specialises in UK and German-speaking cultures. She also works in companies on cross-cultural team-building and co-runs university cultural exchange programs in India and Russia.
If you would like to know more about how I can help you with relocation support or cross-cultural team-building, please email me to arrange a free chat.