Translation Industry News | 13.08.2009

Linguists set to play a key role in 2012 Olympics

Athletes and spectators from more than 220 countries will attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held in London in 2012. The city’s population has considerable linguistic talent which, in conjunction with its reputation as a global city with a strong international outreach, drove the success of its Olympic bid. This is reflected in a remark made by the Chair of the London 2012 Committee, Sebastian Coe: “London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world, constantly renewing itself, and is now home to 200 ethnic communities who speak a total of 300 languages. We want to involve all of these people and communities in delivering our Games.”

London and the U.K. will be the focus of fierce international attention during the Games, which will give linguists a unique opportunity to promote the value of language and cultural skills. It will also allow professional language service providers to emphasise the importance of their profession. Communities and employers alike are aware of the value of the linguistic skills available in the population. In a recent survey, 94% of London businesses acknowledged that language skills are “very important to the London economy.”

So, how can linguists play a role in the Olympics? Ahead of the Games, a range of official documentation will need to be revised and translated, including updating existing sports’ glossaries and preparing new lexicons, rule books and official guides. Highly-qualified translators and interpreters will be required to communicate with the International Olympic Committee, athletes, organizing committees and press representatives. At the Games, that expertise will be called upon during press conferences, live updates and ceremonies and for official accreditation, medical facilities, drug testing, security, transportation, procedures and disputes.

Another key issue is which languages to prioritize with regard to the delivery of services. The Olympic Movement has designated French and English as its two official languages. The Olympic Charter defines these as “working languages” along with Arabic, German, Russian, and Spanish. Recently, Olympic Games’ committees have exceeded the minimum requirement of two official languages, broadening the range to include those of the host country (for example, English, French, and Greek for the 2004 Athens Games). Other “working languages” have also been supported in order to provide assistance on an individual basis and to meet the requirements of both the press and visitors. The following examples of language initiatives at previous Games indicate the range of opportunities available for language professionals.

• At the 1992 Barcelona Games, fifteen other languages were used in addition to the four official ones (Catalan, Spanish, English, and French).
• At the 1996 Atlanta Games, 32 editions of the Olympic Village newspaper were translated into French.
• At the 2000 Sydney Games, the multilingual switchboard operated in over 50 languages and over 1,400 volunteer interpreters worked inside the venues.

Linguists will also play a key role in ensuring that hundreds of thousands of spectators are able to find their way to the venues. A new high-speed rail link to the main Games venues is currently being constructed, transforming London’s transport infrastructure. Many of the countless people visiting the Olympics for the first time will only have a basic knowledge of English. This presents opportunities for linguists to create signs, maps and other audio-visual tools to convey site locations and directions to travellers and to deliver these in a user-friendly way.


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