DO YOU SPEAK FOOTBALL OR SOCCER? - Stillman Translations
DO YOU SPEAK FOOTBALL OR SOCCER?

Qatar World Cup 2022, many languages and different forms of communication. How to overcome interpretation and translation needs in this event?

32 teams, roughly 20 languages, are hosted in wildly different countries each year. How do we make it through World Cup interpretation needs? 

The Qatar World Cup Site is up and it promises “the best-connected football tournament ever”. The goal is for fans to be able to actively engage with the tournament using effective communication methods. In a seamless and customized manner.  

This includes different languages, but also voice technologies, sign language, and braille. 

Digital platforms, apps, websites, signage, and wayfinding will all be adapted to be as inclusive as possible. 

The World Cup features 32 teams, from 32 different countries that speak roughly 18-20 different languages. How do international associations pull this off? What are the common obstacles we encounter? 

THE OFFICIAL FIFA RULEBOOK 

Soccer, or Football as it’s called in most places, is a worldwide phenomenon. There are more than 265 million active players. There are international organizations in charge of international tournaments. Local committees. Large teams, little leagues. You name it. The most popular organization is FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), founded in 1904. 

It was established by seven national associations to foster friendly relations and the organization of football matches at all levels. This being said, four official languages were chosen: English, Spanish, French, and German. 

Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Dutch, Croatian, Arabic and Russian are popular in the field. But are not official. Thus, one can only imagine that such a large-scale event is only made possible thanks to translators and interpreters working behind the scenes.  

FIFA has its own language services department with outsourced translators and volunteers to provide translation services for the global event. This department alone interprets approximately three million words per language per year. From interviewing players after the game to translating marketing materials and providing information about upcoming matches and accommodating people in hospitality industries.  

It’s such a hard to handle larger than life event that there have been more than 150,000 volunteers providing translation services for the World Cup. 

Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash

WHAT HAPPENS WITH REFEREES? 

What language do referees speak during games? How do you choose referees? Should they speak the language of one or another team? Or ignore both?  

In this case, the laws of the game have been designed to make it possible for referees to do their job without speaking. There are universal gestures designated for each call, such as foul play, corner kicks, penalties, offsides, and so on. This is why they also use red and yellow cards.  

WORLD CUP 2022: THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL CULTURE 

All that being said, the host countries of World Cups, in this case, Qatar residents, have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to commentate at the FIFA World Cup. English is predominant and tends to prevail, but local culture is part of the game’s essence.  

In this edition, training will be provided for Arabic and English speakers. No prior experience is needed. The Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII), and CAFE (Center for Access to Football in Europe) are delivering a commentary training program. Audio-descriptive commentary will also be provided to support partially sighted and blind people. 

So Arabic and English will be the main players. But all kinds of translations will be happening simultaneously for each country. Though it is important not to forget about speakers of small languages – particularly those that share media space with bigger languages. George Micallef, a much-respected Maltese sports journalist, once protested PBS’s decision to scrap commentary in his language. Languages such as Maltese are often ignored.  

“If you’re watching TV and don’t understand the commentary, part of the experience is lost,” says Ana Williams, a linguist, and professor of Portuguese at Northwestern University. “Commentators involve whoever is listening, bringing them into the narrative. When you hear matches in your language, you feel more at home.” 

LANGUAGE E/SCAPES  

What alternative escapes are there?  

During the Russia 2018 edition, Clark Football Languages (CFL), put in place an extensive team of remote translators, proofreaders, and subtitlers stationed all over the world who speedily translated vast audio content from pre and post-match press conferences into English throughout the tournament.  

But also, Translation Apps had a peak. They are a powerful tool for tourists who need to get around the city, check into their hotel, find transportation, and make their way to the stadium. And will most likely be this year too. Not to mention social media. One can always count on official and non-official accounts to inform. Maybe not as fast as memes travel, but still very efficient.  

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