The importance of language skills in the international sporting arena
Monday, 1st February 2010
There was once a time when Languages and Sport were viewed as being opposite ends of the vocational spectrum, but with the international nature of sport today, there is a now a much greater need for the two skills to exist side by side.
The most common, and arguably most necessary, reason for a sportsman or woman to learn a foreign language would be if they moved abroad to play for, or to represent a foreign team or organisation. These days there is much more opportunity for professional sportspeople to spend some of their career abroad, and as a result many now do.
There are lots of famous sports stars – football and rugby players especially – who have learned a language in order to relocate. Included amongst them are Johnny Wilkinson, who has been leaning French prior to, and during his time playing for Toulon, Gary Lineker, who learned both Italian and Japanese for relocation purposes, and of course, David Beckham whose efforts to learn Spanish (although initially mocked!) were much applauded by journalists when he first spoke the language at a press conference.
Not only do language skills help when it comes to communicating, and successfully playing with, new team mates, but learning about the language and culture is also essential when it comes to settling into the new environment. For this, some cultural language training can be really helpful. Gary Lineker is quoted on the CILT website as saying:
“ Getting to grips with a new language can be great fun, and you learn so much about other people and what makes them tick. Immersing yourself in the culture is critical to making it work abroad.”
Another reason for sports stars to learn or re-kindle foreign languages is the international nature of so many of the large sporting events that they participate in. Lots of the meets and tournaments are held abroad, and they attract athletes from all kinds of different countries. Both Roger Black and Paula Radcliffe can speak languages and were/are able to use them in this sphere - both can speak French, and Paula Radcliffe German too. Whilst it’s not essential to be able to converse in foreign languages, given that the announcements and commentary are often conducted in English, it could help you communicate with foreign peers that you see on a regular basis, and also to overcome any practical language-related issues that apply to anyone visiting foreign cities and countries.
Whilst choosing to learn foreign language skills is often born out of necessity for these sportsmen and women, there is no doubt that they are setting a great example for the young people today. If learning a language at school to pass an exam doesn’t inspire them, maybe seeing their idol conduct an interview in a foreign tongue will. In addition, they are helping to represent the UK on the international language learning stage, and to dispel our reputation as a nation who are unwilling to make the effort when it comes to foreign languages.
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