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Languages for Footballers

Posted on: 6. Juli 2010

The World Cup is nearly over. And with it, the end of the ’shop window‘ for players looking to impress managers and earn a big-money transfer to a top league. Some will end up in La Liga, others the Premier League, others the Bundesliga. And this is where the difficult integration process begins. Finding a home, getting to know your teammates, adjusting to a different culture. The most difficult part often though, is getting to grips with the language. For example, Owen Hargreaves, who arrived at Bayern Munich from Canada at the age of 16, and despite daily German lessons freely admits that during the first year he barely understood anything. If that is the experience of a young boy, eager to impress and intending to stay in Germany a long time, it’s not hard to see why some other players, who only plan on staying a season or two, don’t make much effort to learn the language. Take the example of former Dortmund defender Evanílson, who after one and a half years in Germany still had to communicate to his manager through an interpreter. Football may be a universal language, but I seriously doubt that a footballer can reach his full potential when faced with such communication problems. Success on the pitch is inextricably linked to good communication between the manager and his players, and between the players themselves.

Louis Van Gaal, the Bayern coach, set last year a good example for his players. Before his arrival, he worked hard on his German to ensure that he could communicate clearly and effectively with his players. And he expected his foreign players to do the same: „If you play in Germany, you have to adapt to the culture. That includes the language“, he said before the start of the season. The result? Bundesliga title, DFB-Pokal win and a Champions League final.

In 2008 the British government introduced an obligatory English-language test for all Non-EU skilled migrants. However, football players were given an exception. Rather than having to take the test on entry into the country, they are allowed a year to achieve the requisite language level. And there is a clear incentive for clubs to help their players learn english: if a player fails the test, he won’t be permitted to stay in the country. In any case, as then Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, pointed out, it’s hardly as if these professional footballers can’t afford a few private lessons to help them on their way. However, even after passing the test, whether foreign players will ever truly understand the unique language of footballers such as Gerrard or Rooney is another matter…..!

Alex

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