ROY HODGSON ON EMBRACING LANGUAGE AND CULTURE THROUGH AN INTERNATIONAL CAREER

by Lauren Pitts

SPORT IS A SHINING EXAMPLE OF HOW PHYSICAL SKILLS CAN GET YOU A LONG WAY. IN THIS COLLABORATION BETWEEN UNIVERSIDAD HUMANITAS, CAPITEL AND CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, LAUREN PITTS INTERVIEWS RENOWNED ENGLISH FOOTBALL MANAGER ROY HODGSON WHO SHARES WITH US HIS EXPERIENCE LEARNING LANGUAGES, HOW HE’S USED LANGUAGE SKILLS DIFFERENTLY WITH DIFFERENT TEAMS AND HOW WHEN YOU IMMERSE YOURSELF IN A NEW CULTURE, EVEN SIMPLE THINGS LIKE GOING FOR A DRIVE CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT.

Think of a football team. Think about how many different cultures have merged to form that team. Of course, it’s not just the players who may have travelled internationally and had to adapt their communication skills. Alongside a football team every step of the way is a very important person — integral to effective communication— the manager.

INTRODUCING ROY HODGSON
Roy Hodgson is an English football manager and former player, who currently manages Premier League club, Crystal Palace. Roy started playing football at non-league level at a young age and at the age of 23, he completed his training to gain his full coaching badge. Before becoming a full-time manager, Roy’s career saw him work as a PE teacher in South London, and also move overseas to Pretoria, South Africa, to play for Berea Park. He speaks five different languages: Swedish, Italian, English, French and German.

During his career as a manager, Roy has coached 16 different club teams, including Halmstad, Malmo, Inter Milan, Fulham, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albian; and four national teams, including Switzerland, Finland, UAE and England. He joined Crystal Palace FC in September 2017. In February 2019 he became the oldest person to manage in the Premier League in history, surpassing the late Sir Bobby Robson.

EMBRACING NEW LANGUAGES

You started your football management career in Sweden and have since managed 16 different teams, in 8 countries. How important has it been for you to speak the native languages of those countries?
Well it all started, I suppose, with school and French. When I ended up in a French speaking part of Switzerland, I suppose I’d been given a very good background thanks to my school days.

But the other languages, we had no prior idea about. In particular Swedish. We had no idea about the Swedish language when my wife and I went over there in 1976. But we were helped by a very good government programme. Whereby free lessons were provided every morning, by a qualified teacher, to give you an idea of what the language looks like and how you go about speaking it.

And that really gave us both the necessary basis for learning the language, which of course is all around you when you’re working. In fact my wife went on to get a qualification, so she’s far more qualified in Swedish than I am.

So did your wife particularly enjoy having to learn those languages then, if she went on to do a qualification?
Yes absolutely. In fact she also ended up, because her Swedish was so good, teaching English on a similar sort of programme. But of course to do that, you’d have had to be good at Swedish in the first place.

A BALANCING ACT

Is there a particular word or phrase, in any of the languages you speak, that’s come in particularly useful? Either while you’ve been coaching, or when you’ve just been out and about in your own time.
I think there’s a very good Swedish word, in terms of one’s daily life and that’s lagom. Getting it absolutely right — not going over the top or too far below where you want to be. Hitting that medium. It’s not a word that helps me particularly in terms of daily work, other than of course maybe affecting your attitude towards things at times. And reminding yourself to try and keep some sort of perspective and balance.

Some good life advice in general!
Yes that’s right.

You know funnily enough, I spoke Swedish after four or five months really. I spoke certainly more than enough to get by. More Swedish after four or five months than Italian after four or five months. And then I never spoke a word of anything other than Italian really while I was working in Italy. But in Sweden, in the whole of the five years I worked in Halmstad for example, I barely coached in Swedish. I always coached in English. I often spoke in English as well. My Swedish was really saved for the press and other people quite strangely enough, because all the players, their English was so good.

THE LANGUAGE OF FOOTBALL

Is it encouraged amongst younger players to focus on their language skills, because their career could take them anywhere? Or is it something that they do when the need arises, do you think?
Well the Scandinavian countries have a definite policy. We’d come across four or five year olds who spoke perfect English in Sweden. Just because of the education system. Take all the Nordic nations — they know that really and truly, every time they’re going to leave the country, they’re going to be hard pushed to find people speaking their language. So they’ve obviously made a conscious effort very early on for people to learn a language that’s going to be useful for them.

Although there was one player, in 1976 when I joined the club, who had no English to speak of. He understood what we were doing in the training sessions. He understood all the type of things I was asking him to do. But I wouldn’t have been able to have a conversation with him in English at that time. But he was the only one in a group of 20 odd players.

So how did he understand? Did he just know certain tactical terminology?

Well the big mantra from football I suppose, in those days when I was taking my coaching badges, was ‘show, don’t tell’. They wanted people to show what was required. So a lot of my coaching was done by showing rather than telling anyway. And as I say, he didn’t speak English but he certainly understood more than well enough the things that I would be talking about football-wise. He didn’t have any problems with it and he was one of our best players. So the fact that I was coaching in English obviously didn’t hurt him!

A LANGUAGE TOOLBOX

The football industry is obviously very competitive. From your side, would you say that your language skills have contributed to your success?
Well, in the countries where I’ve worked, it’s been appreciated that I could speak the language. That would be Italy and Switzerland I think more than others. For example in Finland, I never learned Finnish. In Norway, I could’ve spoken Swedish, because the languages are so very similar, but everyone preferred that I speak English.

shutterstock_523858855-Crédito editorial- katatonia82 : Shutterstock.com

Photo by Katatonia82 vía Shutterstock.com.

So really the only countries I suppose where the languages have really been of benefit to me were Switzerland, where my school boy French was very quickly honed up and I could speak and use that language really as a tool in fact. And Italian was a necessity. We did have an English player who only spoke English, so of course my only communication with him would’ve been through English. But for example in Inter there were only two others who had a rudimentary knowledge of English. All the others couldn’t speak English at all. And some didn’t even speak that good Italian, they were having to learn it because they’d found themselves in Italy. So language was vitally important in those two countries.

Now that I’ve come back to England though, the languages haven’t helped at all. Because the one thing about players when they come to England, is 90% I would say speak a fair amount of English before they step off the plane. And the other 10% get put into classes early on and they’re being surrounded by English every day.

SAVE THE PUSH UPS FOR THE BODY, BUT THE BRAIN LIKES EXERCISE TOO

Which of your motivational team talks, pre-match or half time, would you consider to be your best and what was the result of that particular match?
So many of them follow patterns. Your team talks really at all times should be geared more towards the tactical side of things. And making certain that the team is functioning as a team. Most of the advice you want to give, or points you want to make before the game and certainly at half time, will always be related to that. But of course it’s a game which has other elements to it other than just the technical and the tactical. I must say all those things don’t live long in my memory. They’re things that are necessary for the moment and sometimes they bring about the effects you want them to, and sometimes of course they don’t. The moment for analysis is always afterwards. Because you’ve got the result in front of you and you can analyse it.

Would you encourage young people today (budding sports players or otherwise) to learn a language? If so, why?
Well I think anything that helps people’s brains to expand has got to be something to approve of. I’ve never found myself actually telling a player or encouraging a player; other than of course one that’s come to the country and needs to learn the language. But certainly I’ve known several players during my time in different clubs, in different countries, who have decided to learn another language.

In fact quite recently one of the players at Crystal Palace when we were on a training camp in Sweden. I saw him reading a book and making a few notes. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he was learning a foreign language. Not because he had to, but because it was something he wanted to do. I think it’s a good activity and good exercise. Keeps the brain active and gives you if you like another string to your bow. Whether you’ll ever need to use that string is another matter, but at least it’s there.

INCREASING ENJOYMENT AND OVERCOMING ISOLATION

Do you think that learning languages contributed to your enjoyment of living abroad and feeling a part of the culture?
That’s a definite yes. If you’re able to learn the language sufficiently well, then you can really feel that you’re becoming a bit more a part of the culture of that country. And you can even possibly watch films or read newspapers in that particular language. It would also take away that feeling which people who move abroad to another country often feel — that of isolation. Not feeling at all at home where they’ve now decided to make their home. So I think anyone who’s going to make their home somewhere, even if it isn’t necessary, it’s still good if you can do so. Because it increases your enjoyment of life while you’re staying there.

The physical side of training for any sports players or athletes, is hugely important. But with the current Coronavirus situation it’s very difficult to get outside and train. How can sportsmen / women still work on their conditioning and keep their motivation up at the moment?
At the level we’re working at, the players need to be given as much help as they can be given in terms of the sports science department providing them with programmes. We’ve provided exercise bikes, weights where necessary. We’ve given some examples of running that can be done outdoors, if they’re able to do that whilst abiding by the guidelines. But of course it’s all individual stuff at the moment and that’s the major problem.

Football’s a team game. So all they’re going to be able to do individually, unfortunately, is keep their general level of fitness up. When the day comes when we’re allowed to start to train and prepare properly for football matches as a team, that will be a totally different type of training. And a totally different stress on the body than they’re able to put on their bodies at the moment.

Can you give one line of advice for young people today in one of your many other languages? (And tell us what it means in English!)
Concentrerar på dina studier profiterar fran denna perioden för att studerar lite hårdare.

In Swedish, this means concentrate on your studies, and profit from this period to study a little harder.

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Lauren Pitts, The World of Better Learning blog of Cambridge University Press.

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