[lg policy] Language Policy in Football
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Wed Oct 16 15:00:16 UTC 2013
The Agenda: SAFC could learn from Alan Pardew's English language
policy 15 Oct 2013 14:06
Learning English is a crucial part of being a foreigner in the Premier
League. Stuart Rayner speaks to French left-back Massadio Haidara about it
[image: Newcastle United's Massadio Haidara] Newcastle United's Massadio
There was a time not so long ago when translators were all the rage at
Newcastle United. They were at the training ground and at St James’ Park,
in the dressing rooms and the mixed zones where hungry journalists linger
in the hope of a quote or two.
After making five signings in the January transfer window, all of them
French, they were a necessary evil. Manager Alan Pardew went out of his way
to make his new boys feel at home on Tyneside.
There was a themed French day at the training ground where familiar Gallic
cuisine was served up. When Southampton came to town for a Premier League
game, the supporters, decked in tricolour facepaint, berets and strings of
onions, were serenaded with La Marseillaise and a French version of the
Blaydon Races – accompanied, of course, by can-can girls.
It was like a bizarre Allo Allo and Match of the Day “mash-up”. Even this
publication got in on the act, rebranding itself Le Journal for the day,
guest-edited by Yohan Cabaye. All that has gone now.
Pardew treated it as an expedient until the threat of relegation was
banished, then kicked the crutch from underneath his players. If it sounds
cruel, it was nevertheless crucial.
Les Noir et Blanc Bleus were told to go away and spend their summer
learning English because once they got back from their holidays the
translators would be gone and French would not be tolerated at work.
In a Premier League where Englishmen are fast becoming an endangered
species, the importance of good language skills has rarely been greater.
Now it is Sunderland’s problem.
That Paolo Di Canio and Gustavo Poyet – two foreign players who prospered
in the Premier League – have been so adamant their players must learn
English shows the importance of the path Pardew trod. It is about more than
simply communicating with colleagues.
Massadio Haidara explained why yesterday. The French left-back was one of
Newcastle’s January arrivistes without much if any grasp of English.
Nine months on he is still apologetic for his “rubbish” language skills
and, while there is undoubtedly work still to be done, he is well on his
So much so, not only is he confident enough to coach local disabled
schoolchildren on behalf of the Newcastle United Foundation and engage in a
question-and-answer session afterwards, but also to explain why it has been
so important for him to learn English.
He said modestly: “I hope it’s better now than in the first few weeks after
I came to Newcastle.
“I’ve been learning with a tutor, having one or two lessons a week. It’s
coming on little bit by little bit.
“Now I’m confident talking to my team-mates on the pitch.
“Before I was a little bit scared to speak to the English people because my
English was a little bit rubbish but now I don’t have that problem.”
It would be a problem. More so than most, defenders need to be able to
communicate with one another. The art of defending is about knowing where
your colleagues are at any given moment, and your opponents.
Newcastle’s first-choice back four is (arguably) made up of a Frenchman, an
Englishman, an Argentinian and an Italian, playing in front of a Dutch
“It’s very important that you communicate with your team-mates, not just in
the match, but also in training,” argues Haidara. “It’s important you speak
English and not French so all the other players can understand you.”
Last week Sunderland’s Craig Gardner, born and bred in Birmingham, told The
Journal on the pitch at least, the on-field language barrier was not all it
was cracked up to be.
“It’s not difficult,” he insisted. “Football is one language. If someone is
running off somebody you don’t have to say anything, you just see the runs.”
Clearly, though, it has been a problem at the Academy of Light.
I know this does not sound like him, but Di Canio complained about it when
he was still coach, moaning too many of his players were not fully able to
understand the training-ground instructions he was trying to relay.
Pardew was lucky. Twelve French-speaking first-teamers meant one translator
would pretty much do the job, so Pardew had one uncoding his pre-match
Poyet has Frenchmen, Italians, Koreans, Swedes, a Czech, an Italian, a
Greek, a Russian and a Spaniard to communicate with. Some – like the
intelligent and long-since assimilated Sebastian Larsson and Carlos Cuellar
– speak better English than some Englishmen in the dressing room, but
others do not. Not yet, anyway.
The problem Pardew identified was having a group of foreign players who
speak the same language can lead to cliques. If you were dumped in a
foreign country with a group of people who spoke English and others who
struggled to, who would you naturally gravitate to?
Di Canio, to his credit, was wise to it – insisting thepre-season
room-sharing arrangements mixed up the nationalities.
As he walked away from his interview, Gardner was able to exchange a bit of
banter with Emanuele Giaccherini, an Italian who has been working hard on
For all his talk about the universal language of football, Gardner had just
highlighted the value of a shared tongue.
“It’s very important for the spirit within the group,” says Haidara. “All
the foreign players need to speak English.
“The spirit in the (Newcastle) squad is very good.”
It is a language lesson Newcastle’s near-neighbours must learn quickly.
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