Language Fun at the Olympics

Category: Language

With over 220 countries converging in one place to compete in the Games this week, spectators in London are bound to be exposed to a plethora of languages and cultures as they watch the world’s most elite athletes jump over hurdles, dive off of platforms, flip across balance beams and compete in sports that are older than our country.

Speaking of language, here are some quick fun facts about the role language plays in the Olympics:

Did you know?

  • French and English are the two official languages of the Olympic Games.
  • The Olympic Games were founded by the Greeks, but they were banned for being a pagan celebration and disappeared for about 1,000 years. The Games were only brought back by a teacher from France, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, in the late 1800s.
  • The most successful Olympics to date were the Sydney and Barcelona Games—both made communications available in multiple languages outside of the official set, catering to the multilingual athletes and spectators from around the globe.
  • Approximately 70,000 volunteers (including language experts like translators and interpreters) are needed for the Olympic Games to run smoothly.

Though the Games have always been a multilingual event, it’s tempting to think that if you speak English or French, you can easily take in all of the action. However, a lot of the fun (athletes vociferating, altercations with referees, communications between teams, etc.) occurs in over 200 different languages. If you’re traveling to the Games this year and want to get the full story, here are a few language apps that can help you appreciate the multilingual activity around you:

  • VoiceTra4U-M. For iPhone4 or iPad2. Translates into 23 languages.
    • Face-to-face mode: Speak directly into a microphone or converse with up to five other people in their native language(s) through the microphone and the app will provide a translation in your desired language(s).
    • Phone Call Mode: The app can be used during a phone call to translate in real time as you are talking (albeit with a short delay).
  • iTranslate+. For iPhone and Android. Translates in over 50 languages.
    • This app includes dictionaries, speech-to-speech translation mode and the ability to send translated emails and texts, among many other features.
  • WordLens. For iPhone and Android. 4 included languages (and more recently released and available for download).
    • This incredible app instantly translates written menus or signs into English (or French, Spanish and Italian).
    • An added bonus: even if you don’t have internet access on your phone in London, this app still works since its dictionaries are pre-installed.

In keeping with the spirit of the London 2012 Olympic slogan “Inspire a Generation”, it’s important to recognize the role that translation plays in connecting people from around the world. Whether you’re watching the Games from the comfort of your couch, visiting London, or participating from the sidelines, get into the multilingual ambiance this year and be sure to take note of how much translation work goes into making this event happen!

Photo attribution: Viktor Hertz