Does Assad speak English at home? How is he so fluent?

Yeah, I know he studied ophthalmology in England, and his wife was born and grew up there.

But I was struck by Assad’s fluency in his interview with Charlie Rose. I had called it up expecting it to be conducted through an interpreter. Even if a foreign leader speaks English well, an interpreter offers advantages — first, your own people see you speaking your native tongue; it’s a nationalistic statement. Then, it gives you extra time to think of a good answer.

But Assad didn’t choose that path. In a situation in which his regime and by extension his life are on the line, dealing with a highly respected interviewer asking probing questions, he managed to maneuver his way through the interview without stumbling. He had thoroughly internalized his talking points, his version of the story, and he stuck to it, stayed smooth.

He not only stayed on message, he showed a deft understanding of and ability to manipulate U.S. politics at this critical moment, as The Washington Post observed.

He did all that in a second language.

On one level, this is further testimony to just how ubiquitous our own language has become globally. On the personal, though, I find myself wondering how he keeps up his proficiency to this level. Surely it isn’t spoken much in his daily interaction with his officials and generals as he fights this war.

Do he and his wife speak it daily at home?

I’m intrigued…

Do the Assads routinely speak English at home?

Do the Assads routinely speak English at home?

9 thoughts on “Does Assad speak English at home? How is he so fluent?

  1. Phillip

    My guess is (especially considering some of the point the WaPo made about his awareness of US politics) that he watches a lot of CNN and BBC news.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, but that doesn’t make you able to converse without hesitation like that. I’m thinking he gets a lot of practice.

      I think about things like that because when I was a kid, I was fluent in Spanish, with an accent like a native speaker.

      But then, you go 40 years or so without speaking it constantly, and you lose it. I really hate that. I mean, I had this wonderful, valuable side of myself, and I lost it.

      I still read in Spanish at Mass on Sundays. If I practice a lot just before (to warm up the muscles in the mouth that don’t get used in English), I can still SOUND like I speak Spanish well. But try to strike up a conversation with me, and I get really, really inarticulate…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        My non-native English speaker friends say it is a whole lot easier to perfect your English overseas than to perfect any other language, since there are so many opportunities to use it….

      2. bud

        And that differs from your posts in English here on the blog how? I’m just kidding.

        It does seem as though we should provide more opportunities for folks to use foreign languages. The Europeans seem to be pretty fluent in many different languages. Other than the Mexicans and the Canadian province of Canada there really aren’t many regional opportunities to use foreign languages. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the culture in the rest of the world.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          True, bud, but other than Spanish, there is no obvious second language as there is for non-native speakers…..

  2. Juan Caruso

    Assad speaks fluent English and basic conversational French having obtained his primary and secondary education in the Arab-French al-Hurriya School in Damascus. He later attended postgraduate studies in London for his physician specialty in ophthalmology. He also is married to a British citizen of Syrian origin.

    Unlike his brothers Assad claims he lacked interest in politics or the military, and entered his father’s office only once while Hafez al-Assad was in power and never spoke of politics with him.

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