Friday, 23 March 2007

English For Footballers

As a follow up to yesterday's post, here is an account by Nick Raistrick about his time spent working as a translator for Chilean defender Javier Margas.

English For Footballers
By Nick Raistrick

To some people I had the dream job. The hours were flexible, the money was great and I got into games for free. Teaching English to a footballer couldn't be easier. "It's not like they use big words, is it?" many of my colleagues pointed out.

My student was Javier Margas, a World Cup international who had marked Alan Shearer out of the game at Wembley, and played against Ronaldo. I was employed by West Ham because I speak Spanish, having taught in Barcelona and Madrid, though I never had a formal contract. Most clubs recruit teachers through recommendation, as in my case. Occasionally, Javier would receive badly spelt mailshots from "teachers" offering their services at £200 a day. As one of my tasks was to read and translate his mail, these naturally went straight in the bin.

West Ham now make a real effort to keep their players happy. They employ an education officer to assist in this and, through me, made sure that the player and his young family were happy. Other clubs are catching up and realising that a player represents a multi-million pound investment, with maintenance costs that go beyond a flash new car every six months.

It is still difficult for fans to imagine that a player at their club can be anything other than permanently ecstatic, particularly on the astronomical wages they receive. However the change of climate, food, language and lifestyle can be difficult for players to deal with. From ViƱa Del Mar to Chigwell is a big step. And being constantly in the public eye doesn't help.

When I first met Javier his English was, literally, limited to "Hello," and even this was heavily accented. We chatted briefly in Spanish, and got on well. Javier was keen to learn English. He was eager that his family, too, should learn English and benefit from the cultural experience of being in a new country.

We started immediately, so my first lesson involved the player, his wife, the nanny and three children (aged two to eight) all doing "Heads and Shoulders" in a hastily improvised lesson that was interrupted only by the hysterical laughter of my bizarre "class", and the curious stares of hotel staff.

Devising a curriculum for a soccer player turned out to be a strange task. There are no coursebooks. One to one lessons involve a lot of extra preparation, and, of course, the pressure was on. I had two weeks before the start of the season, and endured sleepless nights imagining the sports headlines if it all went wrong: "Confusion in Hammers defence - Teacher to blame!"

I recorded some cassettes for him to listen to in the car, and created a neo-Subbuteo style cardboard teaching aid for positions. Hours were spent with a football in the kitchen with Javier shouting "Man on!" (Or sometimes "Man Up", "Man Off" or even "Man Down"). Needless to say the nanny soon got tired of being a prop in these classes.

I also spent many mornings at the training ground trying to decipher John Hartson, and making a careful note of the colourful ways that "Please pass the ball," or "Do be careful there," can be expressed in English (all the time gaining material for future classes) - players need to react instinctively to instructions on the pitch.

A Breakfast Television crew came to the ground to interview me ("Do you teach him swear words?"), much to the bemusement of the players who were as surprised as me to see a teacher getting press attention. They kicked balls and hurled water in my direction, and one even exposed himself, and I knew I had been accepted.

My role had expanded at this stage to cover welfare and translation. As well as frequent press calls, contact with club staff, estate agents, car dealers and tattooists all had to be covered. It was a strange to watch BMW dealers literally running, making coffee and generally offering the sort of service most of us never see.

It was important that the family did not feel isolated, so getting them online was a priority.

When the nanny offered me a plate of uncooked garlic bread I realised that a shopping trip was in order, to prevent a high-profile food poisoning case. This was a typically madcap and noisy affair, with children crying, shop assistants scattering, the sound of laughter and my protests as I explained that despite the generous offer, it wasn't a good idea for him to buy me a car. Occasionally West Ham fans would stop and ask questions "So, 'ow come you speak Chilean?" or "Tell him he's good."

Sadly my involvement with the club ended when Javier was injured. It was a traumatic experience for all concerned, and not just because I had to translate complicated passages of the surgeon's medicalese.

He is now recovered and back at the club. In fact he got sent off the other week. I hope it wasn't anything to do with poor usage of modal verbs. I suspect it wasn't...

1 comment:

rich said...

The dream job! Can I ask how you got it? I'm a freelance English teacher, I speak French, Spanish and a little Japanese, but I can't imagine the Hammers signing anyone from Japan in the near future. Then again, I wouldn't have bet on seeing any Icelandic Biscuit Magnates. You never know...


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