Live with an interpreter, spoil the ball playerLee Cheon-soo recently neglected to show up for practice with Real Sociedad, in the Spanish Primera League. Apparently, he didn’t follow when his coach announced that training was being moved 30 minutes ahead of the originally scheduled time.
Lee now says that he will study Spanish harder. Well, harder is not going to cut it. He has to master this Romance language to the degree that he no longer needs an interpreter by his side and can conduct daily conversations beyond the level of muchacha and amigo.
The day he can explain to his teammates why some muchacha is hot is the day he has jumped one of many hurdles needed to move to the next level.
In soccer, where formations are constantly changing on the field during play, communication plays a far more important role than in other sports.
For Lee, missing practice and being out of position is already old news. If his grasp of the language does not get better, he’ll become quite familiar with the art of bench-warming.
Another sportsman who needs to hone his language skills is BK, with the Boston Red Sox.
I still think Kim Byung-hyun has good stuff, and if he can pitch to the Yankees, then he too can step up to the next level some day. But as far as language skills are concerned, he needs to hit the books in a serious way.
O.K., he doesn’t need to overdo his language effort to the extent that Park Chan-ho has done. After pitching in the majors for several years, Park speaks passable English now, but gets tongue-tied when he speaks his mother tongue.
But if BK ever wants to be truly involved with his team and become a respected voice in the clubhouse, he’s also got to pick up enough English so that he can go out without an interpreter.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a Seattle Mariners pitcher, is a prime example of how athletes who play outside their home country should approach the game. Hasegawa, who has been in the majors since 1997, not only has a respectable record ― he posted a 1.48 ERA in 2003 ― but also has a solid command of English. The hard work he put into learning it is described in his book, “My Way to English.” BK is already in his fifth year in the majors, but his interpreter still acts as his third leg. He should take a clue from Hasegawa.
You’re probably familiar with the comments made by the golfer Jan Stephenson late last year in Golf Magazine: “This is probably going to get me into trouble, but the Asians are killing our tour. Absolutely killing it. Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English when they can speak English. They rarely speak.”
Now, Stephenson’s already paid the price for being so candid, but she does have a point: Becoming a sports success abroad takes more than killer numbers. Korean athletes should know that by now. With athletes in the spotlight so much, knowing the culture and the language can only help and probably save athletes many an embarrassing moment.
Remember when Koreans on the LPGA tour such as Kim Mi-hyeon were ripped for using Daddy as their caddie? Her pops was accused of improprieties such as moving the balls to better spots.
Sure, they have every right to walk the greens with Daddy by their side, but parting with him isn’t about bowing to foreign powers or giving up Korean pride. Rather, it’s just about being in sync in a globalized world.
It all comes with the territory ― unless you are out at sea alone in some brass fishing tourney.
by Brian Lee
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