I read an interesting article in the Guardian the other day about language learning and football – two topics close to my heart.
In the Sports Comment section under the title ‘Learning the lingo will net England brighter future‘, Louise Taylor suggests that apprentice footballers, now called ‘scholars’, should learn languages as part of their studies to prepare them for the possibility of playing for teams abroad.
Gareth Southgate recently cited the lack of players experiencing new systems and styles of play as one reason for the stagnation in the national game – learning a language would make a transition to playing elsewhere that much easier.
‘Sadly most are unwilling to step outside their lucrative, cosily familiar, domestic comfort zones and the same could be said for many home-grown managers. Instead of whingeing about continental types – often multilingual and well-educated – pinching the top jobs here, why don’t English coaches start investing small portions of their large salaries on language lessons before emigrating for a while?’
The case of Chris Coleman at Real Sociedad is mentioned – communication difficulties made his job hard – and that’s a man who tried (and succeeded to a certain extent) to learn some Spanish while he was there. Michael Owen is reported to have driven miles just to get an English newspaper when he was at Real Madrid, and we all saw David Beckham’s ‘interesting‘ efforts to speak Spanish (although he did manage to get himself sent off for some colourful Spanish at least once!) Not sure about his excuse that his cockney accent impeded him, but it is true that people can feel embarrassed about the way they sound in the foreign language. Didn’t do a bad job of his last press conference I guess!
One man who did make an effort – and actually succeeded – was Gary Lineker who learned to speak Spanish sufficiently well whilst playing for Barcelona to interview Spanish speakers like Diego Maradona on TV, and also learnt Japanese when he played for Grampus 8. But he is the exception.
At a time when the state of language learning in this country is as newsworthy as the state of our national football team, could this be an answer to both issues? Lots of young lads (and lasses!) aspire to be footballers and look up to their heroes. If it’s known that languages are seen as important, perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in the uptake at KS4? And if footballers are learning languages, they might be more inclined to travel abroad to play, gaining the experiences that might be said to be missing in our national team(s). I don’t know – but something has to change!!