Since the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894, the event has grown from a mere 24 countries to over 200. As you might have guessed, the linguistic challenges involved are tremendous. The Games are in full swing in Rio de Janeiro right now. To celebrate, here are 7 fun facts and interesting stories about translation at the 2016 Olympics. Enjoy!
The 2016 Games Have 3 Official Languages: English, French and Portuguese
The Olympics always have two official languages: English and French. Other official languages are assigned based on the languages spoken in the host country. This year, that’s Portuguese, a Romance language with 215 million native speakers and the only official language of Brazil.
This Year, As Always, the French Are Watching
Pity the Francophiles! Unless the Olympic Games are being held in a French-speaking nation, the French language seems to get the short end of the stick when compared to English and the language of the host country. Every year, the International Organization of la Francophonie observes the games to make sure that the French language gets its due. They also appoint a language watchdog called le Grand Témoin, which translates to “the Great Witness.” This year, le Grand Témoin is jazz musician Manu Dibango of Cameroon, pictured at left.
Rio De Janeiro Sought Out 8,000 Volunteers for Translation at the Olympics
Translation at the Olympics is always a huge concern, and this year was no different. In preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro sought out 8,000 volunteers with language skills to act as interpreters and translators for athletes, delegates and the press.
Google Trained 1 Million Local Businesses to Use Google Translate
Rio de Janeiro is growing in popularity as a tourist destination, but it doesn’t cater to speakers of other languages. In fact, 95% of Rio residents only speak Portuguese. To take advantage of the opportunities created by the Olympics, local businesses have to be able to communicate with visitors from all over the world.
Enter Google, and its Google Translate tool. Although imperfect, it’s certainly better than nothing. So, Google has spent the past 4 months teaching 1 million local entrepreneurs how to use Google Translate to communicate with people who don’t speak Portuguese. It’s also finally mapped Rio’s favelas, huge sprawling slums where almost a quarter of the city’s population lives.
US Broadcasters Tried to Change the Order of the Parade of Nations
According to the Daily Mail, US broadcasting behemoth NBC News asked to change the language of the Parade of Nations from Portuguese to English. Traditionally, in the Parade of Nations, Olympic teams from each country march into the stadium in alphabetical order. The order is naturally based on the host country’s language.
That put the team from “Estados Unidos” in toward the front of the line. Apparently, NBC believes that the average American viewer has the attention span of a hamster and no interest in other cultures, and feared they would change the channel as soon as the American team marched in. They requested a change to English so that the parade would be almost over by the time the American team arrived. The request was denied.
Multingual Coca-Cola Ad Rankles Social Media Spoilsports
But then again, perhaps NBC was correct about American viewers not being appreciative of other cultures. Some of them, anyway. Coca-Cola aired an ad featuring the patriotic song “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages. An unfortunate (if predictable) social media outcry ensued from the “English only” crowd.
A Story Without a Happy Ending: Translation Error Sends US Athletes to a Brothel
US athletes DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, DeMar DeRozan and 3 others accidentally ended up in Brazilian brothel on Wednesday. Apparently, they went out to have some fun and decided to stop in at “Termas Monte Carlo.” “Termas” means “spa” in Portuguese, the establishment actually does offer some spa services downstairs. Since prostitution is technically illegal, this keeps things looking respectable. Upstairs, on the other hand, is anything but. So, saying you went to “Termas Monte Carlo” for a back massage is kind of like saying you read Playboy for the articles. Right…
According to CBS Sports, the team left soon after realising what kind of “services” were really on offer at the “spa.”
During International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach’s opening ceremony speech, he talked about the importance of working together, saying ““We live in a world where selfishness is gaining ground.”
But that’s not how the speech got translated in Venezuela. According to the Mitu blog,
Unfortunately, that’s not what Luis Gutierrez Chourio heard when translating Bach’s speech in Spanish for Venezuelan TV station TVES. So what did he hear?
“We live in a world where the selfies are everywhere!”
Obviously, it’s not the same thing, but it kind of sort of is, though. Selfies, after all, are somewhat selfish, and if they weren’t everywhere before, they certainly should be after this hilarious lost in translation moment.
To be fair, I’m sure selfies ARE everywhere at the Olympics ….
Enjoy the games!
Want to learn more about translation and sports? Read this, then: How Translation is Boosting Global Sports Engagement with Social Media.