Oh dear: a commonly used English expression, or maybe just by the elderly and myself; can be interchanged with “Oh my”
“Oh Dear,” is my go-to phrase for any mishap in life or while playing, especially when I’m trying to cutback on some of the other, more colorful language that you can get away with in this environment. A little over a year after we met, my good Finnish friend, Maiju Ruotsalainen, asked me if there was something special about that animal. For an entire year, she thought I was saying, “Oh deer!” instead of “Oh dear!” This translates into Finnish as, “Oi peura,” which is now a commonly used phrase among our friends when someone is having a real shocker*. This is one example showing that while often humorous, the language barrier can be a bit difficult to overcome.
*shocker – Something that shocks, especially through being unacceptable or sensational, commonly used “real” English expression
For an athlete playing abroad, there are many different aspects of your life that can be affected by the language barrier. The main aspects are your interactions with your team and coaches, both within the game and socially outside of the game, as well as your daily life outside of your sport. For myself, I’ve had a really smooth transition into playing abroad; I almost feel guilty discussing the difficulties because I know it can be so much harder than what I have experienced. But I’m still going to try writing today about the language barrier within the game.
My first club has had two English coaches, and it has always been a very international team, making English the primary language spoken within the team when it comes to playing. I have always had at least one other American, often other English speakers, and the girls who don’t speak English as their primary language are actually really good with the language, even though they’ll tell you in perfect English that they aren’t. As far as playing in that club, I think communicating within the game was probably harder for the players from around Finland and Sweden than it was for myself. After three years on the island, I was able to learn some Swedish beyond the naughty words my teammates taught had first taught me. Still, it was more of an interest for daily life than a requirement for on the field.
In my current club, I am one of only two foreign players, but we are lucky to have our American assistant coach translating for us. The players and head trainer are also all very good at speaking English, and translating, but it is my first experience on a team where the game is discussed in another language. Danish is the language, and, again, I am lucky because Danish is similar enough to Swedish that I could understand some things from the start.
I did have some difficulties within the game at the beginning of this year.
I’m a central midfielder, and if you know about the game of soccer then you know it is my job to have control over and dictate play within the game, both offensively and a bit defensively. This takes a lot of communicating, especially if you’re still learning the players around you, yet I seemed to have lost my voice. I didn’t realize it until one of my former teammates pointed it out to me during a preseason tournament. She told me I just seemed quieter than normal. Thank goodness for the “always speak your mind” attitude of Pille Raadik. She was right. My team speaks Danish on the field, which, being in Denmark, is how it should be, but at first I was a bit lost within the game. For some reason, because I wasn’t understanding everything I was hearing, I stopped talking. That’s not good for me as a player, and it’s not good for a team to have a midfielder who isn’t communicating.
Now I’ve found my voice, still in English, but hopefully I’ll be able to make the switch over to Danish as I continue to play in Denmark. My teammates try to use English when they are directing me on the pitch, which is really helpful for now, but it’s kind of like being in a discussion when people are speaking another language and speaking English only when they’re talking directly to you; it’s nice to know the whole conversation. That’s why it’s important for me to try to learn to think football in Danish.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just know what the words mean. It helps, but it has to become an automatic response. I think this is what a lot of English speakers, myself included, forget sometimes. Steve Beeks, a former coach of mine, pointed out that you can know what a word means, but if you still think in your first language, it takes time to translate in your head. That amount of time can be crucial in a game. Overcoming this is something you have control over and it’s important to take on that responsibility if you want to have a successful experience abroad. It is easy to go into a team and make everyone speak English to you, and mentally “check out” when they’re not speaking English. And there are many cases where you can get by or even have success speaking only English. But if you want to get the most out of your experience and bring the most of yourself to a team, then it’s important to make an effort to find some common ground for communicating.
If you’re a new player going abroad, or already abroad, in the next week or so I’ll have something to get you started. With the help of a couple of friends, I’m putting together some footballing terminology translated into a couple different languages. Your team may use something different, but it’s a good place to start.