As billions of people are tuning into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, we thought we’d take a look at this truly global event that aims to bring the world together in friendly football conflict, whatever language they speak.
Despite the myriad controversies surrounding the event this year due to the host nation’s history, policies, laws and human rights record, the event itself is an amazing celebration of skill, athleticism and teamwork and one we’ll be sure not to miss!
Let’s take a look at the World Cup 2022 through the lens of language, uncover the vast opportunities available around the event and reflect on how this showcase of soccer unites people across the globe.
Half the World is Watching
It’s amazing to imagine but according to FIFA, more than half the world watched the record-breaking 2018 World Cup. Their audit shows a record 3.572 billion people watched the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
This figure includes those who watched on TV at home, out of home or on digital platforms – the final itself was seen live by a combined 1.12 billion viewers worldwide.
This is a truly staggering figure and just goes to demonstrate the sheer reach and engagement appeal of the beautiful game across the globe. What this also demonstrates is that there’s no singular way that any one nation consumes their media. It’s a timely reminder as we enter 2023 that for your own international marketing plans, you may need to flex budgets and investment in content creation and translation across different channels for different audiences, languages and countries.
FIFA’s Translation Challenge
According to Caitlin Stephens, Deputy Head of Language Services at FIFA, they translate some three million words per language per year and counting. “FIFA has four official languages – English, French, German, and Spanish – which means that most communications and information for its members have to appear in the four languages,” Stephens explains.
Stephens says FIFA’s Language Services Department translates content for all the other units within FIFA and handles a huge variety of documents apart from the monthly magazine: media releases, official regulations, information and correspondence for member associations, minutes of meetings, technical reports from competitions, football-related manuals and handbooks, medical and anti-doping information, legal documents, HR information for employees, as well as their annual activity, financial, and governance reports.
The way FIFA tackle this challenge is by using both specialist and generalist translators which reaffirms their position that they need both in their squad to succeed. The variety of documents ranges from simpler communications to technical and legal texts that require translators with discipline-specific skill sets (such as legal or medical). In addition, there is also industry-specific knowledge, in this case football and sports, all layered over with the cultural nuance required to make translation effective. That’s why here at Bubbles, we always use native-speaking, culturally aware professionals in a specifical specialist discipline and/or amazingly talented translators with additional industry knowledge to help your translations deliver – not just linguistic experts.
Languages of the World (Cup)
We’ve already covered the four official languages of FIFA, but in reality, these official languages are also incredibly varied.
The most prevalent “official” language is English, with 8 teams appearing including England, USA, Canada, Australia and Wales. However more obscurely and perhaps surprisingly Tunisia, Ghana and Cameroon also class English as the official language of their nation.
The second most popular is Spanish, with five of the six total Spanish-speaking teams coming from South America (Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay) alongside Spain themselves.
Following the Spanish nations are French-speakers, Belgium, France, Senegal and Switzerland but also incorporating Cameroon and Canada.
This year there are five Arabic-speaking teams. As the 2022 World Cup is being hosted in Qatar it means that the Qatar national team automatically qualify to take part, but this year Iran features alongside Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
German is spoken by 3 teams in the tournament (Germany, Belgium and Switzerland) and Portuguese by 2 (Portugal and Brazil). Other countries such as Poland, Japan and Denmark speak their native languages and Welsh players will probably be communicating in English, but there is always the chance they may use Welsh to try and confuse their opponents!
You’ll notice from the above that some countries appear twice in the list – reaffirming a much-repeated Bubbles point that the country doesn’t always mean a singular, specific native language.
In today’s cultural melting pot of migration and globalisation, it’s wise to consider the different languages spoken in a region and adapt your translation and localisation strategy towards cultures and not just consider geo-political boundaries!
Missing an Open Goal
The world of football isn’t immune to a translation fail or two.
A statement from Jerome Valcke, the secretary general of FIFA at the time, led to an apology being issued to Aldo Rebelo, the sports minister of Brazil.
In his statement in French, he expressed the need “to speed up the pace” as we would understand it. However, the translation to Portuguese was delivered with a little more vigour and ended up sounding offensive. It was translated as “give a kick in the butt” and it caused anger among the Brazilian team!
Finally, we’d like to end with a reminder that footballers can be wizards on the field, but they don’t always make the best translators!
This video is great fun, but we’d recommend leaving translation to the professionals and if you’ve got a project you’re looking to move forward with, we’d love to hear from you.