Multilingual: The polyglots in football

It is a common thought that having the ability to speak multiple languages is a clear sign of intelligence for more reasons than one. Apart from your mother tongue, being versed in foreign languages can be an advantage in life, as it opens up opportunities should the need arise. 

As stated in a classic proverb: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. 

Sports, including football, are no exception to this, in which there are times that the struggle is real for booters of certain countries who only speak in their native language, with the mostly living in the Anglosphere such as the United States and the United Kingdom being the guiltiest party of the lot.  

That means, the language barriers that they face are the reasons why, in part, they struggle outside of their comfort zones. 

However, with generations of migrations becoming more prevalent on a larger scheme of things, it’s no surprise that it enabled them to learn a second (or even more) tongue to prepare them for any career eventuality. 

With that, we present some of these footballers who are well versed besides native language. Well, apart from English of course. 

Zlatan Ibrahimović

Native Language/s: Bosnian and Swedish 

Fluent in Italian, French and Spanish. 

The forward is a proud sporting product of Migration. He was born in Malmo to a Bosnian dad and a Croatian mom, hence the multilingual skills are already honed at home. 

However, it was his Italian-speaking skills that defined the brash nature of the Swedish talisman, having lived there for most of his life as he played for the tre grandi of Juve, Inter and Milan. 

As you can see in their Scudetto celebrations, Zlatan had polished his Italian well before he flipped the table.

Romelu Lukaku 

Native language: French 

Fluent in: German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Flemish, Italian and Lingala. 

How’s that for a polyglot? The big striker was born into a footballing family in Antwerp where his father, a former DR Congo international, settled into Belgium well into his footballing career. 

NINE languages. The number is in all-caps to emphasize his language skills, which did not even fit into his language box when UEFA sends in their info sheets to the media for interviews, back when he was with Chelsea.

That info sheet did not include Lingala, which was a Bantu language native to the DR Congo, which was his ancestral homeland. It was put to good use back when he was at Everton, teaming up with Yannick Bolasie up front to terrorize their opposing backlines. 

Zinedine Zidane 

Native language: French 

Fluent in Spanish and Italian 

The World Cup winning midfielder was born in Marseille to migrants from the Kabyle region, which had a significant Berber population, who came to the French mainland before the Algerian war.

His expertise in both Italian and Spanish were largely brought by his time with Juventus and Real Madrid, in which he won four European Cups, including his managerial three-peat at the Bernabeu. 

Eiji Kawashima 

Native language: Japanese 

Fluent in French, Italian, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish 

The Samurai Blue and Strasbourg shot-stopper is the inspiration behind this piece, as he put in the hard work to make it big from a country who is as monolingual as the English-speaking ones.

He cites the importance of learning multiple languages as part of his learning experience on and off the pitch. He was quoted as, “It is difficult if the keeper cannot speak, I cannot argue with myself.” 

His proficiency with the French language was the one that stood out, like what he did on goal in Belgium and France when playing. 

With that, Kawashima became the inspiration not just of the Japanese footballers, but also to Asian athletes as they became more known in Europe.