Speaking the language

A story in the L.A. Times last week on reactions from local Russians to the events in Georgia was based on interviews conducted in Russian by Metro reporter Ann Simmons. The LAT's Readers' Rep blog goes into detail on languages in the newsroom:

Except for her phone conversation with the Georgian deputy honorary consul, all of Simmons' interviews were conducted in person and entirely in Russian. Simmons' background -- she was based in Moscow for Time magazine in the early 1990s, has traveled extensively in the former Soviet Union, and has reported from Georgia -- helped to break the ice for the interviews.

Times’ staffers in Los Angeles occasionally send internal e-mail inquiries to the newsroom at large asking for help in translating or interpreting; within minutes, typically, a follow-up note goes out with a "Thanks, all, have what I need." An informal survey of newsroom staffers shows the resources are scattered but plentiful. There are numerous Spanish speakers, a few who speak Korean, a few who speak Chinese. Among other languages Times staffers speak are Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic and Vietnamese. Sports' Dylan Hernandez speaks Spanish and Japanese.

And what they don't know they're learning: The California section's Teresa Watanabe speaks Japanese but this summer is in Mexico immersed in learning Spanish; Calendar's Scott Sandell is studying Chinese; Tami Abdollah, who is fluent in French and can read and write in Farsi and Hebrew, is working on becoming fluent in Farsi.

(As for Times correspondents posted at bureaus around the world, many of them go through intensive language training before they begin reporting from another country, if they don't already speak its language.)

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