The Multilingual Premier League: Too Many Languages Spoil the Broth?

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dicanio-lost-in-translation.jpgIt seems, even within Premier League Footbal, too many languages spoil the broth. The rise in foreign players and the use of different languages is causing problems on and off the pitch for managers and players alike.

It would be paradise to play football as a professional player and at the same time being able to learn new languages. A combination of work and pleasure!

Multilingual Sunderland

The perfect team would be AFC Sunderland, having many foreign players under contract who obviously speak different languages as well.

But unfortunately their ex-manager Paolo Di Canio wasn’t amused to hear his players speaking in any another language than English, blaming them for losing matches because of the language barrier.

Nevertheless, he probably had a good reason!  If you take a look at the Premier League table you will immediately understand Di Canio. Look at the very bottom of the table. If they don’t want to spend the whole campaign as basement-dwellers, they should start communicating.

In an article published last week on The Journal, Di Canio admitted that the language and hence communication problems were “driving him crazy”. 

One reason could be that they are just too shy to speak in English because they don’t want to make mistakes. Di Canio says, “But we are in England. Speak in English. Even if it’s rubbish like my English.”

As they were playing in England, the manager banned foreign languages from the pitch in order to make them learn English more quickly, especially necessary words like “Squeeze up”, “Tight”, “Drop” or “Shoot”.

If they continued practising their native language, Di Canio was planning to interrupt training sessions for 5 minutes, a gentle wake-up call to remind them kindly that they are playing in England. He would content himself “if they only learn ‘up’ and forget ‘squeeze up’. Just say ‘up.’”

But there aren’t only 16 foreign players in the squad; 13 English native speakers are also with them. It’s essential that those make a step towards their foreign teammates and start a mentoring programme so that each French, Italian or Spanish player has an English speaking mentor with whom he can practise the language. However, Di Canio doesn’t want them to speak just about “women or cars”. He adds, “talk to them about other things and then when we practise if we are on the back foot and someone says squeeze up they say ‘Ah OK, I understand’.”

Apart from a mentoring programme, there are two other options: going to the cinema before the match day (some German teams already do it) or hiring a language teacher. It would be very sad to see your favourite team lose just because they don’t know the basics of a language. And no, simultaneous interpreters are not an option!

kagawa at press conference

“Ask David Moyes”

Something different involving languages happened to the 24 year old Japanese player Shinji Kagawa.

The Red Devil player scored the equalizer during the game against Ghana (which they won 3:1) and was substituted 5 minutes before the end of the match. Journalists from all over the world already waited in the mixed zone, eagerly waiting to ask him about his role in the team of David Moyes.

Because it can be sometimes very tricky to translate from Japanese into English, his answers lead to some misunderstanding.

When he was asked about the fact that he isn’t in the line-up of the Red Devils, he answered: “You would have to ask David Moyes.” Unfortunately for him it was translated for the English-speaking press as follows: “Please ask David Moyes why I’m not in the side.”

It led to a lot of confusion in the motherland of soccer, while in the Japanese media the statement wasn’t even mentioned. In Germany, the website of the newspaper “Die Welt” posted as well the wrong translation. It seems that journalist all over the world are very quick in reporting about controversial statements, although they only become controversial after they get into the hands of them.

Such as another statement of Kagawa where he refers to his current mood: “Some days the frustration is worse than others – it comes in waves.” But he didn’t say that in Japanese. He actually said: “Well, one always has ups and downs mentally/emotionally but I’m very much looking forwards/positively and working hard.” Therefore he wasn’t frustrated at all and he also didn’t “complain”, as “Die Welt” reported falsely.

The Premier League is a fascinating example of what happens when people from different countries and languages work together – long may it continue!

Written for the Culture Vulture by Lars Kitzmann, a professional German translator with a love for all things football.

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