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Athletes, interpreters discuss international experiences, use of languages

August 27, 2008

It’s not just Olympic athletes who travel the world. The internationalization of sports has led to opportunities for many athletes – professionals and amateurs alike – to cross national, cultural and linguistic borders to play and to compete.

On Monday, Sept. 8, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Language Institute will host a panel discussion titled “Sports and Languages” featuring UW-Madison alumni and other guests who have used foreign languages as athletes and interpreters in the world of sports. The panel discussion will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St. The event is free and open to the public.

For recent UW-Madison graduate Matt Beyer, being an interpreter for an NBA player was a way to use the Chinese he’d been perfecting for several years. Upon hearing that Chinese basketball player Yi Jianlian had been picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks, Beyer sent his resume, was called for an interview and started the same day. “I’ve always enjoyed studying Chinese and wanted a job that utilized it,” says Beyer. “Working as an interpreter is the epitome of that.”

For former Badger football player Ben Johnson, playing football in the NFL Europe was a great privilege and a unique opportunity to travel and get know the local community in which he lived. While in Hamburg, Germany, Johnson picked up a working knowledge of German. “Languages enhanced the experience that I had playing football in Europe by allowing me to communicate with people,” he says. ” It’s not true that everyone in Germany speaks English – I found that I often had to rely on my German in Germany, and people were very appreciative that I did speak some.”

Panelists include

  • Beyer (speaks Mandarin Chinese): Former Chinese interpreter for NBA player Yi Jianlian.
  • Brian Doherty (speaks German; former UW-Madison soccer midfielder 1992-96): Played professional soccer in Germany for two years.
  • Eric Horne (speaks Spanish): Played semi-professional basketball in Spain, provided interpreting for Malaga’s Euroleague team, Unicaja. Majored in Spanish in college.
  • Johnson (speaks German, Portuguese and Spanish; Badger football offensive tackle 1998-2002): After playing football at UW-Madison, was recruited by the NFL and sent to play in Europe, where he played in Hamburg and Amsterdam.

Language for Life is a program of the UW-Madison Language Institute that gives current students the opportunity to meet with working professionals who studied a foreign language in college and are using that language in their professional or personal lives in inspiring ways. Language for Life is made possible by the support of the College of Letters and Science Anonymous Fund.

The Language Institute promotes collaboration for research, education and community outreach in languages, literatures and cultures. The Language Institute is an initiative of the College of Letters and Science, with substantial support from the Division of International Studies.

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