Could learning a language make you a better footballer?

Katrin Kohl

Ever thought of becoming a footballer? Even if your dribbling skills are more of the oral variety, it’s worth reading what Martyn Heather, Head of Education at the Premier League, has to say in a recent interview with the British Council, since it offers some insights that also apply to other spheres. Highlighting current lucrative opportunities in China, he advises aspiring footballers to study languages in order to open up the possibility of joining a club abroad. Planning ahead enhances the chances of success: foreign managers such as Pep Guardiola approached their next career move with forethought, starting to learn English three or four years in advance.

English may be the global lingua franca, but football is all about team-building and that relies on effective communication – i.e. communication in the local language. That’s also the language needed if the player wants to be part of the conversation in the changing room. And knowing the local language is essential in the context of training: ‘As a manager, if you’re trying to put your point across and someone’s translating, it loses impact.’

The need for the right language to create impact is essentially a variant of the principle that also operates within a language: communication will only be effective if the register and linguistic choices are appropriate. This principle of using language that’s right for the purpose was already being taught in ancient Greece and Rome in the context of rhetoric (Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory is still a treasure trove). Learning another language enhances understanding of how communicative impact works. And it expands the options for creating an impact in environments where using English would be about as effective as scoring an own goal.

Read the interview with Martyn Heather >>

A similarly international perspective is reflected in Arsenal’s innovative programme combining football and language learning for school children >>