¿Cuál idioma? – How Important is being able to Speak English in Becoming Miss Universe?

Lights … Camera …

Miss Universe Sashes

Hot looking ladies in flowing white sashes ... swimsuits, no tanlines and big long eye lashes... these are a few of my favourite things!

That crazy time of year has arrived again. White sashes are being pinned, flubby bits are being retracted and false eye-lashes are going into overdrive as some of the hottest women from around the planet spend almost a month together in Mr. Trump’s Panopticon under the hawkish gaze of the Mid-West Mafia … lest one stray from the flock.

The next three weeks are going to be branded into the souls of all the contestants for the rest of their lives. For many they will be ‘those were the days’ memories… and for some others these next 3 weeks will go up into the ‘WTF’ ether of their life’s ‘history’…. or is it ‘herstory’?

One question that I am always asked from Miss Universe fans … and also from ‘non-fans’ (or whatever you would call the ‘antithesis of a fan’) is ‘How important is being able to speak English in becoming Miss Universe?”

In order to answer this question, we first have to understand the answer to the question ‘What is Miss Universe?’. .. so before reading on, I suggest that you have a read of a previous post of mine – “How to be a Beauty Queen and Influence People“.

In that post, I go into my thoughts on what Miss Universe is all about and if I was coaching one of the contestants, how I might go about prepping them for the pageant.

In short ‘Miss Universe’ is a BRAND. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

Miss Universe is a powerful brand that is associated with another powerful brand-name – Donald Trump. The person who is crowned ‘Miss Universe’ for the next year takes that mast-head position for the organization and will be just as important to the success of the Miss Universe Organization as the name, font, design and colours of the Coca Cola logo are for the Coca Cola organization.

So now back to the question at the heart of this post – “How important is being able to speak English in becoming Miss Universe?”

Taking a wide-lens view of being Miss Universe let’s look at what she does:

Miss Universe On the Road

As Miss Universe, your schedule is going to be crazy ... the Pageant is all about seeing who can be 'the one' both on and off stage no matter where you are in the world.

Represents the Miss Universe Organization Around the World

Miss Universe is an ambassador that needs to promote a ‘healthy’ and ‘clean’ and a globally ‘aware’ image of the organisation around the globe

Her travel itinerary is going to be crazy for the next year, so she needs to travel well and be able to handle herself on her feet … that includes being painfully aware of what effect her body-language, clothes, way she walks and of course the WORDS she uses has on the people around her.

Miss Universe Represents her Country

Miss Universe has to be aware of the plethora of political and social issues that her country is facing, because like it or not, the world’s eyes are going to be focusing on her and she could have a direct or indirect impact on international affairs. … SCARY!

One example of how this could go bad is the whole Dayana Mendoza visits Guantanamo Bay incident. That wasn’t good PR for Miss Universe, the USA, Venezuela or for Dayana herself. What Dayana’s intentions were in the end are meaningless. It’s all in the ‘spin’, and in the end it’s the ‘spin’ that will remain in the history books to become fact.

Miss Universe Represents Herself

I’ve included this one here, but honestly speaking, in the eyes of Miss Universe management I don’t think that this representation is as important as the first two. This is where I have personally known many Miss Universe pageant contestants to fall down. The girls are very young, many with amazing ambition, talent and dreams for the future.

Many of the contestants go into the ‘game’ thinking that it’s a competition to show how much better, talented, clever and sexy they are compared to the next person.

If you think like this, you may as well pack your bags now.

The Reality of the Miss Universe Pageant

The 3-4 weeks that run up to the final Miss Universe pageant is one long psychological examination. It’s an exam of stamina. The Miss Universe gods don’t want to know how well you can perform on stage. They want to know how well you will represent the Miss Universe organisation when faced with a grueling schedule over an entire year. Can Miss Universe travel around the world, meet people that she might not necessarily want to meet and still be interesting? Can she pull of a cocktail party on short notice and win over a crowd even if she didn’t particularly like them? If she gets a call during her downtime to come and meet some VIP, how will she carry herself? Will she dress appropriately? Will she be able to portray the image that the MU Organisation needs her to portray 24/7?

When you look at these things, how many back-flips she can do, or how many degrees she has becomes secondary.

sexy lips

What comes out of your mouth is important!

Back to the question – “How Important is being able to speak English in becoming Miss Universe?”

A Miss Universe that could speak fluent English and speak it ELOQUENTLY as far as logistics are concerned would naturally make life easier for Paula, Annette, Roston and the rest of the Miss Universe team. Press conferences would be smoother – no need for interpreters. Well… no need for 2-stage interpreting – that is interpreting from the mother tongue into English and then from that language into the target language depending on what country they are in.

Stuart Jay Raj on stage with Jerry Springer Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown interpreting for Miss Thailand

While more developed countries have standards for interpreters, the interpreters that some countries proved might just not be reliable. Having two levels of interpretation makes it even more risky. It’s important for the MU team to understand what MU is saying too – just in case she says something controversial and they need to go into damage control later on.

The issue of interpreters though needs to be balanced with the ‘quality’ of who Miss Universe is.

Now we’re getting close to the answer! … so let’s get back to the issue of WINNING THE PAGEANT.

Should a non-native English speaking Miss Universe contestant use English or their mother-tongue during the pageant?

Have a look at this table I have put together for Miss Universe contestants that are Non-Native speakers of English:

Non-Native English Speaking Miss Universe Contestants Choosing to Speak English During the Pageant

Benefits Negatives
  • The contestant demonstrates that the Miss Universe management team won’t have any communication issues both internally and externally should she become Miss Universe = mitigated risk
  • Some of the judges are very ‘American’ or ‘English Speaking Western’. It’s sad to say, but they might feel more comfortable and more of a rapport with someone that can speak English.
  • Building relationships with the other girls during the pageant is extremely important. Word gets back to the top about everything that happens on the ground – both positive things and negative things… and things also ‘leak’ out into the blogosphere. If the contestant can use English to build a positive rapport with everyone, it would be in her favour.
  • During rehearsals, it is often crazy and the choreographer and producers are often left tearing their hair out trying to control the girls. Being able to speak English and understand the commands … and also to give feedback and communicate back to the producers would be a positive thin
  • If the contestant’s English isn’t ‘great’, they might not do themselves justice during the interview stage and not achieve the results they would have liked to had they decided to use an interpreter and spoke in their mother-tongue from the heart
  • Some (many) of the girls are often over-confident with their ability in English. They might decide from the beginning not to use an interpreter only to discover that they couldn’t express themselves the way they would have liked to.
  • Even worse, some girls choose to use an interpreter, but then when they get into the interview room they get the brainwave that they will speak in English to impress the judges. If their English is great – that’s fine… and it’s ok just to speak a bit of English to show them that you can speak English, but this time is golden time for you in the eyes of the judges and if you fcuk it up by trying to show off only to leave the judges scratching their heads trying to figure out what you meant, you may as well kiss your chances of becoming Miss Universe goodbye.

As compared to:

Non-Native English Speaking Miss Universe Contestants Choosing to in their Own Language (and use an Interpreter when necessary)

Benefits Negatives
  • You as the contestant are free to express yourself from your heart without any limitations that a foreign language would put on you.
  • You reduce the risk of you unintentionally putting your foot in your mouth and being misinterpreted by the judges
  • The Interpreters that Miss Universe provides are an amazing team of people and in my opinion are some of the best in the world … and they KNOW Miss Universe. Some of these guys have been doing it for over 20 years. They have a wealth of experience and know how to phrase things etc. This isn’t to say that the interpreters will ‘alter’ what you say to please the judges. They are just there to interpret… BUT … one word in one language can have many different ways of rendering it in English. These guys will choose the best words for you and your limited vocabulary in English won’t be an obstacle.
  • Using an interpreter is a clever strategy as it BUYS YOU TIME. That means that you’re given extra time per question both during the interview stage and during the final top-5 questions on stage during the pageant. In the world of Miss Universe, you want to use what you can (ethically) to win. Those extra seconds to get your mind around a question could make a difference.
  • You won’t be misunderstood. Some people are overconfident with their English and might not even be aware of the way they are perceived by native speakers of English. Accents might be very hard to understand and little differences in meaning might not be picked up on.
  • You won’t be stressing about your language skills – stress management is very important during this psy-op called Miss Universe. It is really Psych Warfare 🙂
  • You’ll have a friend! During your time at the pageant, things get stressed, crazy, there are tears, spats, sitting waiting around locked up in the auditorium during rehearsal, late dinners …. and of course many good moments too. Your interpreters (along with security) become your family. Having an interpreter with you during the time … someone plugged into the outside world is great to have and very useful at times.
    You don’t get to show off your English skills … mind you, you can speak a few words in English to demonstrate this and do the rest through the use of the interpreter

The point I made about not being misunderstood even if your English is good was demonstrated very well by Swedish born BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. Have a read of this article.

Speaking some Scandinavian languages, I understood exactly what he meant when in English, he referred to the people affected by the spill as the ‘little people’. In Swedish, it means your regular folk. In English however, hearing someone saying this having no knowledge of Scandinavian languages, you would think that he is being arrogant, making himself out to be God-like over the ‘little people’.

So in answer to the question “How important is being able to speak English in becoming Miss Universe?”

It is a ‘nice to have’ but not necessarily a ‘need to have’. Riyo Mori and Stefanía Fernández didn’t have amazing English skills when they won the pageant and indeed both of them used Interpreters. Miss Universe provided English coaching for them, and I have personally witnessed the amazing improvement in the English of both of these ladies.

I know that the girls train their butts off all year – especially when coached by people like Ines Ligron. English can be learned and should be a secondary thought in comparison to the other things you’ll need to do to impress the judges and be crowned Miss Universe. Unless your English is GREAT and you can express yourself in every register of the language, I would highly recommend using an interpreter (that Miss Universe provides for you). It’s a smart tactic and could mean the difference between dragging your bags down the stairs of the hotel by yourself and throwing it into the back of a cab OR being upgraded to the Penthouse suite and be on a jet back to NYC ready for your new life as Miss Universe.

Good Luck Girls!… I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground … stay tuned 🙂

โชคดี… สู้ๆๆๆๆ Semoga Sukses ya! 加油! Buena Suerte! 幸運! удача! Held og lykke!

Stuart Jay Raj.

http://stujay.com

Stuart Jay Raj is a polyglot who specializes in the languages and dialects spoken in South East Asia and China. His talents have allowed him to earn a professional living as a simultaneous interpreter in Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Indonesian, among others, providing language and cultural training for multinational companies in the region and hosting his own TV programme on Thailand's Channel 5. He holds a degree in Cognitive and Applied Linguistics from Griffith University and has become an expert in the field of language acquisition with a strong track record of success. Stuart's background knowledge of Sanskrit, Khmer, Lao and various Chinese dialects and minority languages enables him to present a fascinating and unique perspective on the Thai language which makes everything fall logically into place.