HL Deb 20 September 1909 vol 3 cc14-6

My Lords, I rise to ask the Government whether on the 1st July out of 1,779 lieutenants on the active list only eight had passed as interpreters of the German language, and of these only one was receiving additional pay for having done so; whether at that date only one out of 246 captains and three out of 365 commanders had passed in German, none of whom were receiving any extra pay in consequence; what amount of extra money had been paid to executive officers in their capacity of interpreter of the German language during the last financial year; whether any money had been paid to any executive officer for instructing officers in German during that period, and if so, how much; and whether the Government are not of opinion that a larger proportion of executive officers, more particularly those who have specialised in gunnery, torpedo, wireless telegraphy, and other technical subjects should be acquainted with that tongue, and if so, whether they will consider the advisability of revising the regulations so as to give executive officers greater opportunities for studying, and increased remuneration for the time and trouble involved in the acquisition of that language.

Only twelve out of 2,390 captains, commanders, and lieutenants on the Active List have qualified as German interpreters, and of these only three appear to be receiving any reward for having done so. I am not in favour of a very high standard of German for naval officers. What some people call a courier knowledge of the language is almost sufficient. It is not necessary for them to attain to the high literary standard required by the Foreign Office. On the other hand, they ought to be well acquainted with the technical terms used in chemistry and electricity, in gunnery and steam which are unnecessary for a diplomatist. It is quite a mistake to think that a knowledge of German is of no use at sea except when a senior officer wishes to communicate with some German vessel. The chief value of such knowledge is to my mind the capacity to assimilate German thought in technical matters. A naval officer may well read Goethe, Schiller, Heine, and Schopenhauer for amusement or as a rest from the study of professional subjects, but he ought also to read Von Treitsche and other German historians, so as to know the trend of German thought towards England, and he should study such scientific and engineering works as bear on naval matters. I am not by any means one of those who think that all naval officers ought to be linguists; but if five per cent. of our executive officers could add to their attainments the power of reading and understanding the German language, it would, I think, increase the efficiency of the Service as a whole. I look upon it as a matter for regret that so few of our specialists in gunnery, torpedo, or wireless, should be capable of studying German technical books and be able to draw their ideas from foreign countries as well as their own.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord I have to say that on July 1, eight lieutenants had qualified as interpreters in German; of these, two were receiving additional pay as interpreters and one more had very recently been holding such an appointment. On the same date, there were one captain and three commanders qualified in German; of these latter one was holding an appointment as interpreter. Interpreter's allowance to the amount of £73 18s. was paid to executive officers in their capacity of interpreter of the German language during the financial year language. 1908–09. No payments were made during 1908–09 to executive officers for instructing officers in German. Forty-seven officers of all ranks were qualified as interpreters in German on July 1; forty-eight are now qualified, and eleven officers (including one captain and four lieutenants) have proceeded abroad to study German since that date. Specialist officers are least able to spare the time for purposes of study of foreign languages abroad, since they are so constantly employed. Steps have recently been taken to extend the facilities for naval officers studying foreign languages in their own time; under existing conditions, if an officer takes lessons in his own time, actual outlay on travelling expenses and tuition fees is payable within an amount of £35. At present not more than five officers in any year may be given the benefit of these facilities. It has, however, been found that the exigencies of the service render it impossible always to have the full number (twenty) of officers studying abroad, and accordingly steps have been taken to increase the number of officers who may be granted facilities for studying in their own time. The Treasury have sanctioned the proposal that the number of officers who are thus given opportunity for the study of foreign languages in their own time shall not exceed twice the difference between the number of officers authorised to study abroad—i.e., twenty—and the number actually studying at any one time. German is included in the curriculum of studies at Osborne and Dartmouth. I may add that apart from the executive officers who have actually passed the qualifying examination there is a considerable number of officers who have a more or less thorough knowledge of the German language.

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