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2014 Word Cup | A Story of Languages

2014 Word Cup - A Story of Languages

Even though it is called “soccer” in some regions of the world, football is a universal language. But what are the linguistic characteristics of the sport at a professional level?

This infographic tells the story of the 2014 FIFA World Cup from the perspective of a “3D” translator interested in languages, business and sports.

It gives a direct access to key facts and figures for each qualified team, making it easier to identify linguistic patterns and quickly compare a side with other group competitors in terms of languages, market value and on-pitch performance.


Methodology and Objective

The content of this post is based on the official FIFA final lists of 23 players submitted by the 32 teams qualified for the next World Cup in Brazil, and subsequent replacements for injuries as of June 09. Key data sets were also extracted from Transfermarkt.

My objective is to paint a broad picture of the languages involved in professional football. Several criteria were taken into account, including the places of birth, nationalities and career details of the 736 participating footballers.

in particular, stays in one or several clubs were considered over a minimum of 9 cumulated months, which is the equivalent of a sports season and the estimated reasonable time for a player to acquire basic skills in a language.


Key Findings, Facts and Figures

1. 34 unique languages

Let’s start with a tribute to Markus “The Tower” Babbel: a total of 34 unique languages are spoken by 736 players from 32 teams, as a result of cross-border transfers in the football industry and demographic diversity.

2. Top 5 languages: Spanish, English, French, Italian and German

The top 5 languages are Spanish and English (both with 38% of speakers), French (23%), Italian and German (tied at 18%), which mirrors not only the current attractiveness of the “big 5” European leagues in terms of revenue, but also colonial history.

3. Spanish and English way ahead

Spanish and English are way ahead the rest of the pack, reflecting the strong international presence of these two languages. Spanish is especially concentrated in South America and Central America, and the official language of no less than 9 qualified countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Spain and Uruguay).

English is also the most widespread language, with at least one English speaker in each qualified team, while only one single team (England!) fails to include a Spanish speaker.

4. 68% of the players are multilingual

With a 68% overall multilingual ratio (MLR) average, nearly 500 multilingual players will be present in Brazil.

5. Bosnia and Herzegovina best-in-class

Bosnia and Herzegovina leads the way with a perfect 100% MLR, together with Brazil and Belgium (both with 96%).

Logically, Bosnia and Herzegovina is also at the top of the pile in related rankings, with 17 unique languages spoken by Bosnian players, ahead of Australia (15) and Nigeria (13), and an impressive total of 48 additional languages among the 23 Bosnian footballers, in front of Côte d’Ivoire and Croatia (tied at 41).

6. England at the other end of the table

England lies at the other end of the table with limited linguistic skills and a poor 4% MLR thanks to Phil Jagielka, the sole English player able to speak another language (Polish). The vast majority of English footballers play home in the EPL (English Premier League), the richest league in the world. If a transfer occurs during the course of a player’s career, it is mostly of an intra-league nature and it rarely involves a move abroad.

7. 5 players each able to speak 6 languages

Finally, it will come as no surprise that the most linguistically skilled footballers, with a total of 6 languages (Diego Lugano from Uruguay, Faryd Mondragon from Colombia, Emir Spahic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yaya Touré from Côte d’Ivoire, and Hassan Yebda from Algeria), are frequent travellers, but usually not the MVPs on the pitch, except for Yaya Touré, worth an estimated €30m. The most talented players often have a relatively stable career, with only a couple of transfers along the way, or even none. Consequently, they have fewer opportunities to discover new languages and cultures. 


Linguistic Patterns

- English is the second most widely spoken language of the Honduran (57%), French (52%), Ivorian (44%), Brazilian (39%), Dutch (39%), Spanish (39%) and German (30%) teams.

- 39% of the Costa Rican players speak Norwegian.

- Italian is the second most widely spoken language of the Argentinean (70%), Uruguayan (65%), Swiss (57%), Colombian (39%), Greek (39%) and Chilean (30%) teams.

- The top 3 languages of the Belgian team are Dutch (65%), English (57%) and French (52%).

- German is the second most widely spoken language of the Bosnian (57%), Croatian (39%), American (35%), Australian (30%) and Japanese (30%) teams.

- 35% of the Portuguese players speak Spanish.

- French is the second most widely spoken language of the Algerian (74%) and Ghanaian (35%) teams.

- 35% of the Korean players speak Japanese.


Over to You

Which piece of information surprised you the most?

How do linguistic skills impact the game?

Have you ever thought about the multilingual aspect of football?

Let me know in the comments below!


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