Talking Football: Behind The Eyes Of The Interpreter
By: Dan Brett (DanBrett90)
The number of overseas footballers within England has grown rapidly over the last two decades.
The rise of the Premier League, and subsequent development of the Football League, has led to a growing number of foreign players looking to ply their trade within the country.
With that, comes the burden of learning the English language or appointing an interpreter – like Ronan Malt.
Many football managers across the country have been criticised for using interpreters during press conferences - most notably Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino during his time at Southampton – rather than braving the English language.
Some managers cite the ease of speaking in their mother tongue while others decide not to refer to the English language through fear of being misunderstood and, thus, misreported.
But the fast-paced world of English football refuses to stand still, allowing Ronan to represent big names such as Santi Cazorla (when he first joined Arsenal) and former West Brom manager Pepe Mel.
Not an easy job, at times, as Ronan states: “Probably the most challenging aspect of the job owes to the fact that the football interpreter is often asked to interpret bilaterally, in my case this involves interpreting journalists’ questions into either French or Spanish for a manager or player, and then interpreting their reply back into English.
“The situation is not typical, certainly in institutions such as the European Union or United Nations, where interpreters typically work into their mother tongue only. In my view one of the most challenging aspects of interpreting bilaterally in the football context is the ability to successfully render the figures of speech which are so common in football; “hitting the ground running” or asking the manager whether they believed the game was a "game of two halves”, for example.”
Ronan completed a BA Honours degree at Durhum University and an MA in Interpreting at London Metropolitan University; and now represents Clark Football Languages while supporting Pepe Mel, and is currently interpreting for Sunderland to help their quartet of Santiago Vergini, Ricky Alvarez, Sebastian Coates and Anthony Reveillere.
However it is working with Mel that leaves the biggest memory, when the boss was asked of his culinary exploration shortly after taking the Albion job.
He added: “He was asked about whether he had sampled any Black Country culinary delights such as “faggots”, and whether he had tried any local ales. These products are UK-specific and there are no equivalents in the Spanish-speaking world.
“I also remember Pepe being asked about the supporters and their famous “boing boing” chant, which I had to explain the significance of to him. Pepe was very easy to work with, we had a good professional relationship. He was very affable and pleasant.
Ronan continued, noting how difficult the job can become – especially when interpreting for a losing side, but appreciates how important it is for players and managers to be able to express themselves effectively.
“In terms of interpreting for players or managers after the team has lost, of course it makes the atmosphere a little bit tenser but ultimately my job as a football interpreter is to remove myself from this and interpret faithfully without getting caught up in the emotion of it all,” he said.
“It is very important that the management and players have a channel through which to express their views to the press and ultimately to the paying supporters. In the case of players/managers who requires an interpreter, it is the interpreter who gives them a voice.
“This is where the interpreter's role becomes rather gratifying, being able to justify a performance to fans who are keen to hear the manager or players thoughts on a particular performance.”
Despite the usability and ease of using an interpreter, many managers remain criticised over their reluctance to speak in English – something which Ronan thinks should be left down to the individual
He said: “Some managers have been criticised for using an interpreter but I think that often managers prefer to use interpreters to avoid their less-than-perfect command of English meaning that their words can be manipulated or misinterpreted by the media.
“In my experiences some players/managers have also tried to use English (and therefore not use the services of the interpreter) in a possible attempt to show that they are adapting well to their new surroundings. Others, I believe, use English in an attempt to establish a more direct relationship with both the press and with supporters, instead of communicating via an interpreter.”
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