By Kerry Drew
With the 205 countries that participated in the Olympics and 174 countries in the Paralympics, one starts to wonder how language barriers are dealt with during the festivities.
The Olympics and Paralympics have three official languages: French, English and the language of the host country. French is the first official language in order to honor Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Coubertin established the four year cycle of the games and proposed the idea that the Olympics would be held in various countries, rather than continuously hosting them in Greece. English became the second official language, due to its international status. Since English is the official language of England, the third ‘language’ of the 2012 Olympic Games is multilingualism.
How did London prepare to overcome language barriers among the over 200 countries participating in this year’s Olympics? The first major response was to translate signs, documents and any other written materials in order to make it easier on athletes and spectators alike. This is a simple, cost effective solution to bridge language differences encountered in every day activities such as ordering food from a restaurant or getting directions to an athletic event.
The second way was by providing interpreters on-site both during and outside of sports events. This way athletes were able to use interpreting services to communicate with their fans while touring the city or answering questions at a press conference. Professional sports interpreters were also used to communicate step by step updates during athletic events whether in the stadium or on the television for those watching at home. Those in London even went as far as to include British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for the hearing impaired audience in England.
Of course, one must not forget the main reason for the Olympics: athletic competition. In that case, how do referees and other sport officials communicate with athletes and coaches? Traditionally, in order to avoid bias for or against teams, sports officials who are not native to either country playing are chosen to officiate events. While some sports, such as Tae Kwon Do and Judo, use terminology in the language of the country in which the sport originated, most sports use the native language of the athletes’ country.
For the most part, referees, athletes and coaches generally can communicate using hand signals, yellow and red cards, and other emphatic gestures, tones or symbols. When actual words are necessary, referees typically learn the jargon of the sport in the two languages of the competing teams, such as ‘goal’ or ‘penalty’, and that is usually enough to get the point across.
Recently, there have been complaints that French is fading out as an official language of the Olympics. To prepare for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, officials spent eight hours a day studying English. How much French they studied was not reported. Similar complaints were heard in light of the opening ceremony in Vancouver, 2010. Canada’s Official Languages Act states that French and English are equal languages and therefore should be used equally. However, English was the dominant language of the Olympics, especially during the opening ceremony. Are these past events a beginning of future Olympics which will disregard French entirely?
The Olympics are a great way to bring all cultures and languages together; it would be tragic to have fewer official languages. By removing French, the history of the Modern Olympics could be forgotten in the future. During every Olympics, Greece enters first in the Parade of Nations to honor the history of the Ancient Olympics. Just as this tradition has been preserved, so should the French language to honor Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the birth of the IOC.
Kerry is part of the Marketing and Project Management teams at Language Connections. She holds a B.A. in French and a minor in Psychology. She has traveled and studied in France and also served as a teaching assistant in the French Language and Literature department at her college. Contact via email: email@example.com
Visit our website at www.languageconnections.com!