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The Olympics and Language


Karl-G
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The U.S. has had four years, maybe even eight, to prepare for the Olympics. Does anyone know how much time and money were spent teaching the athletes to speak and understand basic Chinese, so they could converse with their hosts in the Olympics? And NBC, how much time and money did it spend preparing its people to meet and interview athletes? Should we guess?

 

More money was spent by the U.S. Olympic Committee on one cute outfit for some jock to wear in the opening parade than on any language training for the American contingent.

 

Samantha Brown, whose very fine series, "Passport to China," just aired on the Travel Channel, showed what could be done. She could easily say: "Hello" "Goodby" "Thank You" "Where is the subway station?" "How much does that cost?" "I would like one piece" And much more, in good Chinese. And her hosts showed how happy they were to find such an American and interact with her. She also reported that all village idiots and three year olds in China speak the language well. Surely, even Michael Phelps and Dara Torres could be taught basic conversational Chinese. If anyone cared.

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Karl, if your post had been in Chinese, I might have taken it more seriously. But the reality is that Chinese can be a very hard language to learn. Would you have had them learn Mandarin, or would some Cantonese do? Maybe they need to learn the dialects in case they meet someone from the provinces...and, you are, of course, assuming that none of the athletes did learn some phrases.

 

Athletes are focusing on winning the most demanding contests of all and you want them to take some time out to learn Chinese...would you settle for chow mein? I'll bet the Chinese would be happy with a friendly smile. :)

 

Update: There is, in fact, a Chinese language learning center at the Olympic village for athletes who have the interest. And, for Hoovilleans who want to say some Olympic things in Chinese, try this:

 

http://blog.chinesehour.com/?paged=2

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I seem to recall seeing a commercial for Rosetta Stone language software starring Michael Phelps who claimed he used the program to learn Chinese.

 

Perhaps the athletes who cared to did it on their own rather than having the USOC do it for them. I expect that most of them were at least taught please, thank you, hello, etc. Without any evidence that they didn't learn some Chinese I think you don't have too much basis to criticize all of these people.

 

Asian tonal languages are very difficult for English speakers (and I suspect most Romance language speakers) to learn. If you are not inclined to picking up languages easily it can be quite frustrating. I suspect most athletes were a lot more worried about training for their sports performances than they were about learning the language. Many of them only get one chance in a lifetime to compete at this level and at this event. So I think it is hard to expect them to do more than focus on their training.

 

I took a once a week Thai class which was helpful to a degree. And I actually remembered enough while I was there to use it which was nice. But one introductory course spread over a couple of months, one time a week isn't enough to really learn the language.

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The Chinese languages are difficult for speakers of English, but that just means it would take a long time to become fluent. It wouldn't take long to learn basic phrases to show some courtesy. There's no excuse for going to China without learning a few words at least.

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Guest zipperzone

>The Chinese languages are difficult for speakers of English,

>but that just means it would take a long time to become

>fluent. It wouldn't take long to learn basic phrases to show

>some courtesy. There's no excuse for going to China without

>learning a few words at least.

 

One could just as easily say there is no excuse for the Chinese people to invite English speaking athletes to their country without learning a few words of English.

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