Dictation in French and English

Posted on 21 October 2013

The European Speechwriter Network champions the idea that every speechwriter needs their own commonplace book. British author, John Julius Norwich, is famous for his Christmas Crackers, which have been appearing every year for over 40 years.

In the 1973 version, he reproduced the famous dictation which Prosper Mérimée set one evening for the court of Napoleon III at Fontainbleu. According to the memoirs of Princess Pauline Metternich, the winner was Prince Metternich, with only three mistakes. Alexandre Dumas made 24 and the Empress Eugénie made 62, which was considered not bad for a Spaniard. The text was as follows:

Pour parler sans ambiguïté, ce dîner à Sainte-Adresse, près du Havre, malgré les effluves embaumés de la mer, malgré les vins de très bons crus, les cuisseaux de veau et les cuissots de chevreuil prodigués par l’amphitryon, fut un vrai guêpier.

Quelles que soient et quelqu’exiguës qu’aient pu paraître, à côté de la somme due, les arrhes qu’étaient censés avoir données la douairière et le marguillier, il était infâme d’en vouloir pour cela à ces fusiliers jumeaux et mal bâtis et de leur infliger une raclée alors qu’ils ne songeaient qu’à prendre des rafraîchissements avec leurs coreligionnaires.

Quoi qu’il en soit, c’est bien à tort que la douairière, par un contresens exorbitant, s’est laissé entraîner à prendre un râteau et qu’elle s’est crue obligée de frapper l’exigeant marguillier sur son omoplate vieillie. Deux alvéoles furent brisés, une dysenterie se déclara, suivie d’une phtisie.

– Par saint Martin, quelle hémorragie, s’écria ce bélître ! À cet événement, saisissant son goupillon, ridicule excédent de bagage, il la poursuivit dans l’église tout entière.

In 2012 as part of the warm-up to the  European Speechwriter Network conference, we persuaded Matthew Male from Future Perfect to deliver a dictation in English to test our listening skills. Here is the text:

The Ecuadorean ambassador arrived at St James’ court, after three days’ travel. He brought South American charisma to the London diplomatic scene. He always spoke English with a husky drawl, as if his vocal cords had once benefited a wood-cutting task. 

His accommodation was in Marylebone. He had a small window box to cultivate well-planted camellias, but they didn’t grow well in London’s chilblain-provoking winter cold.

Every morning, he went to his favourite restaurant, where he liked to eat filet mignon with broccoli. Red wine would complement his beef.

Twenty-five years earlier, he had studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. He had fallen in with a literary set – they liked to dress androgenously and behave in avant-garde ways. He learned to play the ukelele and liked to make grandiloquent one-hour ad-hoc speeches at the students’ union.

While we didn’t have many European leaders in the room, we did have some of their speechwriters. We can report that Phil Waknell won with nine mistakes, Martin Shovel made 10 mistakes, Alan Barker made 13 mistakes, Frank van Hoorn made 15, Fred Metcalf made 16 mistakes and Jan Sliva made 17 mistakes, which was considered not bad for a Czech.

Copyright © 2020 European Speechwriter Network. All rights reserved. Website by Europa Studio.