Miss Universe contest shows language issues

UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE?:Some say Miss Venezuela’s stuttering English in the pageant’s finals may have cost her the title, but organizers deny any language barrier


Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - Page 7

Miss Venezuela came in third in the Miss Universe contest, a disappointment for the South American nation that has won more crowns in the pageant than any other country besides the US.

However, Irene Sofia Esser Quintero was the talk of the Internet on Thursday after she attempted to answer a question in English during the pageant’s finals. Her answer was unintelligible at times — one of several examples where the language barrier came to the forefront during the pageant.

Pageant officials provided a professional translator so top-five Miss Venezuela could understand her on-stage interview question: “If you could change one law, what would it be and why?”

Esser was allowed to answer in her native Spanish, but stepped out of her comfort zone and tried her English with this response: “I think that any leys [laws] there are in Constitution or in life, are already made. I think that we should have, uh, a straight way to go in our similar, or, eh, in our lives as is this. For example, I’m a surfer, and I think that the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So please do our only, eh, law that we can do. Thank you, Vegas!”

Bloggers and observers on Twitter seized on the brunette beauty’s comment, with some lampooning her English and calling the answer nonsensical. Others defended her as brave for trying a second language under the glare of the spotlight.

Back home in pageant-crazy Venezuela, which has produced six past titleholders and numerous finalists, her loss was front-page news.

An article in the newspaper El Nacional said Esser looked quite good, “but an unintelligible answer in the round of questions lost her the crown.”

Because the pageant does not release scores publicly, there is no way to determine how the answer affected the outcome.

In videotaped interviews aired during the telecast, top-10 candidates Miss Mexico and Miss France opted to talk about themselves in Spanish and French respectively.

In the live interview, top-five contestant Miss Brazil took her question — about whether bikinis turn women into sex symbols — in Portuguese, and gave her answer in Portuguese. She finished fifth.

The pageant has no language requirement. Pageant spokeswoman Brenda Mendoza said organizers are proud their contestants come from around the globe and have translators on hand to facilitate interviews for non-English speakers.

Miss Philippines Janine Tugonon addressed the topic directly in the on-stage interview. When asked whether English should be a prerequisite for Miss Universe because she is an international ambassador, Tugonon gave this reply in her own, slightly accented English: “For me, being Miss Universe is not just about knowing how to speak a specific language. It’s being able to influence and inspire other people. So whatever language you have, as long as your heart is to serve and you have a strong mind to — to show to people, then you can be Miss Universe.”

She got loud applause and cheers in reply.

Newly crowned Miss Universe Olivia Culpo of the US may have a little trouble of her own with the language barrier.

She either did not hear or declined to answer when a reporter at a post-pageant press conference asked her in Spanish whether she spoke Spanish. Culpo speaks some Italian, but not Spanish.

Last year’s winner, Angolan beauty queen Leila Lopes, spoke in deliberate English, perhaps refined by Miss Universe appearances and business management studies in England.