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Ambassador wins Filipino hearts with language skills.

Manila: The UK's ambassador to Manila, Asif Ahmad, won the hearts of many Filipinos when he spoke in the local language during his recent introduction by President Benigno Aquino III at the palace.

Ahmad, who replaced Stephen Lillie as Britain's top diplomat in the Philippines in July, not only used Tagalog in his speech, he thereafter responded in the same vernacular when he addressed Filipino members of the press.

Filipinos were obviously pleased that a foreign diplomat took the trouble of studying the local language. Several days after Ahmad made the speech, online editions of newspapers in the country published articles praising Ahmad's proficiency in Tagalog.

The news of a foreign diplomat speaking Tagalog comes at a time when even some young Filipinos who have spent most of the life in the their home country cannot even speak the local language properly.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News correspondent, Karen Davila, Ahmad said he was acting in accordance with an initiative by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague for diplomats to be proficient in several languages, especially that of the country they would be assigned in.

Aside from Tagalog and his native English, Ahmad is also conversant in Bengali, Urdu, Farsi, French and Kutchi.

Ahmad said he was able to pick up conversational Tagalog by watching afternoon soap operas like Be Careful With My Heart. The television programme is popular with Filipinos in the country and abroad. He said his favourite Filipino word is "masarap" which means delicious in Tagalog.

He said learning Tagalog or "Filipino" was not that difficult as there were many similarities with the other languages that he already knows.

Ahmad had visited Manila a number of times in the last 10 years in his role as Director Asia for UK Trade and Investment and later as the head of the team in London that covers Britain's foreign policy interests in ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

He served as Ambassador to Thailand from 2010 to 2012, his biography the website says.

Ahmad joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in 1999 after an 18 year banking career which covered international corporate finance, head office functions as well as periods in private banking and running a network of retail banking branches in South London.

Just before becoming a diplomat, he worked with Business Link in London as an adviser to small and medium-sized companies.

"Asif's early years were spent in London where he was born and his father's career gave him the opportunity to live in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, China, Poland and the former Soviet Union."

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Oct 31, 2013
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