How many languages does an athlete encounter at the Olympic games?

The Olympic Rings monument, in front of Japan Olympic Games Museum

August 3, 2021

What are the official languages in the Olympic games?

A lot of people know that the first Olympic Games were held in Ancient Greece. But the modern version of the Olympics we know, see and enjoy today were re-established in France by the French historian and teacher, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, in the 19th century. Since his time, French was considered as the language of diplomacy and a lingua franca, and since Coubertin was French by origin, French became the first official language of the Olympic Games.

Nowadays, Section 23 of the International Olympic Committee Charter specifies that the official languages of the Olympic Games are French and English and all the documentation must be accessible in these two world-known languages. In addition to this, this rule also states that there must be live interpretations in German, Russia, Spanish, and Arabic for all sessions.

There is an interesting fact regarding the opening ceremony: the alphabet of the host country defines the order by which the participatory countries enter the venue, but the country that does not follow this alphabetical order is Greece; she’s always the first one to enter in honor of being the first country where the Olympics were actually born and first taken place.

There are some cases where host countries have a variety of languages and cultures inside their borders, and this pushes the organizing committee to incorporate them. Such a case occurred in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where Barcelona’s and languages and culture had to be incorporated into the guideline.

How are language barriers addressed by Olympic games organizers?

Like with nearly everything in life, there are certain barriers in the Olympics, and one of them has to do with language. How do game organizers tackle these “hurdles that must be jumped over,” to use one of the Olympic games?

One of the most important reactions is translating the signs, documents, and every other writer material, so both the athletes and spectators would have it easier to comprehend. This is a great, simple, and not expensive solution to bring together all language distinctions in random activities such as going to a bar or a restaurant, getting directions, or even get a new friend from somewhere in the world.

The other way is providing on-site interpreters during the events. This makes it possible for the athletes to use interpreting services if they want to take a tour in the city, answer questions at a press conference, or communicate with the audience. When speaking of interpreters, professional sports interpreters are used to transmitting step-by-step updates during the Olympic events be it in the stadium or by broadcasting live for those who stay home and watch the TV and eat popcorn and drink beer.

Furthermore, in recent years, the Olympics have been using a wide range of apps in order to make the translation more accessible amidst countries.

Did you know? Language policy at major sporting events

International sporting events, like the Olympic Games, are complex events when it comes to languages and this requires large-scale language planning and policy. When you plan a sport major sport event, the important thing is to enhance your brand with professional, accurate, and reliable translations that are adapted to your target audience. It is a field that, more or less like sports, does not tolerate margins of error.

Getting back again to the Olympics, when you become part of the organizational process of an indeed international event, considering the history and the traditions of the Olympics, a crucial inspection of the language skills end-products must be taken on at teach level and be in harmony with the allotted budget for that. Besides, all the translation and interpretation conditions must be fully understood and put in mind forever.

A lot of candidates and host cities and countries have at last understood the very important fact that language skills are vital to support tourism and customer service before, during, and after the Olympics. Well, to view the use of languages already spoken as a possibility to transmit the message and image of global cities, so they could consequently attract foreign visitors.

At last, considering the proclaimed purpose of the major sporting events for building and improving the global collaboration and the fact that this involves communication between languages and countries, events’ organizers must make critical language policy and planning decisions so as to accomplish their goal.

Get the right kind of translation services at the right price from eTS

eTranslation Services go with the times. We realize the opportunities for translation and interpretation, and we are more than willing to collaborate with clients on their various translation and interpretation requirements, using professional native-speaking translators. Please get in touch with us at [email protected] or call us at (800) 882-6058 so we can discuss your translation needs.

RuinDig, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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