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Tennis and Languages

The French Open is the only Grand Slam to be translated. Djokovic speaks five languages.

Why is the French Open, named after Roland Garros, a French pioneering aviator, so special? First of all, it is the only Grand Slam tournament played in a non-English-speaking country. As such, it is the only one to be translated, with three official languages: French, English and Spanish.


Besides, it is also the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay, and learning to play on this surface seems to be as big a challenge as learning another language for tennis players, especially for native English speakers. No wonder that the only American man to win this title more than once in the last 50 years, Jim Courier, learnt to speak French.

Nowadays, rare are the American players, men or women alike, able to speak another language. Serena Williams is an exception: she can speak Spanish and some Italian. Moreover, she has been working on her French and is the lucky owner of an apartment in Paris, where she trains at the Mouratoglou Academy.

Andy Murray, the only British player in the ATP Top 100, is not able to converse in different languages, although he lived in Spain for two years.

Spanish, just like English, is another major language. Consequently, Spaniards have less incentive to learn a second language. If we have a look at the Top 5, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer are not really known for their language skills, even though Nadal showed some signs of improvement during his speech after his 2014 French Open victory.

On the other hand, two Swiss players are among the Top 5: Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. Federer can give his post-match press conferences in English, French, and Swiss German, and has some knowledge of Swedish and Italian. Wawrinka is also a polyglot, as he speaks five languages: French, German, English, Czech, and Italian. Switzerland is a multilingual country, which makes it definitely easier for its citizens to acquire language skills.

Last but not least, Novak Djokovic, the world number 1, speaks Serbian, English, German, Italian, and French, and considers himself as a language lover. Coming from Serbia, he has been well aware that Serbian is a minor language, which also encouraged him to learn new languages. He has made fast progress especially on his French since moving to Monaco, and he recently won the crowd over when he delivered a speech in French.

According to Djokovic, there is a Serbian saying which states that the more languages you know, [the] more is your worth as a person. But how much is your company worth on the international scene in terms of linguistic skills?

Just as Roland Garros became the first man to fly a plane over the Mediterranean Sea a century ago, I believe your company could fly over its competition by speaking the language of its audience.



Let me know in the comments below!


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People in this conversation

  • Guest - Tom

    Dear Jerome,

    With great pleasure I have voluntarily assisted as interpreter/translator in World-/European Championships as well as Olympic Games in Germany, The Netherlands, Greece etc. It has always struck me that there still has been a great demand for people who are able to make themselves understood in various languages. Both athletes, coaches and other VIPS who are struggling to speak a foreign language, are so grateful when they run into someone who can answer possible questions in their own language. I know what I am talking about, as I experienced this frequently during my participation in some sporting events and I love it switching from one language into an other. The more languages you speak the better are your possibilities to speak directly to journalists and reporters. I can express myself in 6 languages and at the moment I am studying very hard to improve on the Italian language.

  • Guest - Kathleen Price

    Thank you! I lived in France 16 years without knowing why French Open was called Roland Garros (or I've forgotten).
    I certainly think that the number of languages you know increases your success in business. I am living in Silicon Valley, San Jose, CA., at the moment. Do you have any suggestions on how I could obtain any of these companies
    as clients for learning French and Spanish? I have taught medical Spanish in a hospital, but it was a chance meeting with a nurse who worked there who connected me to the HR department. I'd appreciate any suggestions!

  • Guest - Jérôme Osselaer

    Dear Kathleen,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I would suggest you to get involved with the ATA and/or local translators associations, in order to discuss the specifics of the Californian market.

    Besides, if you are specialized in medical Spanish, you could try to source potential clients in the medical/pharmaceutical industry and/or get in touch with translation agencies including this offer in their range of services.

    Have an excellent weekend!

  • Guest - Richard Reive

    Excellent commentaire Jérôme!

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