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Translation at the World Cup

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is happening now. The opening ceremonies were held on 14 June, and the final game will take place in Moscow on 15 July. Football is one of the world’s top sports, and the World Cup is by definition a multilingual event. The focus is on the players and the games, of course, but it wouldn’t be possible without the translators and interpreters working behind the scenes. With that in mind, here are seven interesting facts and statistics about translation at the World Cup.

FIFA has four official languages

They are English, French, German and Spanish. They also translate content to and from the language of the countries hosting the events. This year, of course, that’s Russia.

Russian, the host of the language of the 2018 World Cup, is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. 144 million people speak it in Europe. 260 million people speak it around the world

 Instead of the Latin alphabet, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. That’s part of what makes it such a challenging language to learn.

FIFA translates 3 million words per language, per year

According to Slator, FIFA mainly uses a network of freelance translators, as well as some translation agencies. So, what does it take to translate for FIFA? According to Caitlin Stephens, Deputy Head of Language Services at FIFA,

“FIFA’s translators have to be both good specialists and generalists. They also have to be able to juggle working on long projects — often with short deadlines — with reacting quickly to translate urgent media releases or provide ad hoc linguistic advice.”

Press conferences are translated into as many as nine languages via a remote translation centre in Moscow

Russia launched a remote translation centre in 2017 for the Confederations Cup. For 2018, the translation centre is located in Moscow. According to Andrey Moiseev, head of Local Organising Committee Language Services, “there will be up to nine languages in play: five core languages (English, German, Spanish, French, Russian), the first team’s language, the second team’s language, language of the first team’s coach, language of the second team’s coach.”

Over 50 interpreters will be available so that the press conferences can be translated as quickly as possible.

Each country has their own football-specific slang

The most striking example of this, of course, is the United States. For some odd reason, they insist on calling football “soccer.” But there are also loads of other colourful phrases in other languages to describe various aspects of the sport.

For example, according to the World in Words podcast, a chaotic moment in a football match can be described in the following ways:

Vrouwen en kinderen eerst: Dutch for “women and children first.”
Andar aos papéis: Portuguese for “walking on papers.”
Hawaii football: Norwegian for “Hawaii football.” 

Given the lack of multilingual tourist infrastructure, many fans rely on Google Translate

And that’s not a bad thing. Apps like Google Translate are often the only practical option for leisure travellers. They certainly beat gesturing, or speaking English with a Russian accent and expecting to be understood. But of course, they aren’t perfect.

Volunteer interpreters help meet the need for language services at the World Cup

As the FIFA volunteer page explains, “Language services is one of the most important volunteers’ functional areas as the interpreters are irreplaceable at these high profile events.” Volunteer interpreters must know Russian and another foreign language and have prior experience in interpreting and cross-cultural communication.


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