5 Tricks for Interviewing Foreign Athletes

July 12, 2012 at 3:15pm EST | by Barbara Huebner, NYRR News Service

For journalists covering the upcoming Olympic Games, the Tower of London might as well be the Tower of Babel. More than 200 countries will be sending athletes to London, and every one of those athletes will have a story. So, all of you English-speaking “scribbly liners”—as a late and beloved Boston Globe copy desk chief used to call reporters in the days of that antique tool known as the pencil—open your notebooks. Or turn on your digital recorders. Or hit the button on your iPhone. Or fire up the video camera. Or whatever.

Here are five hints, for what they’re worth, on how to cope with the language barrier when you’re interviewing track and field or marathon athletes at the Olympics or elsewhere:

  1. Address your questions directly to the athlete, not to the translator. Make eye contact with the athlete and speak to him or her as if every word you say is being understood, because …
  2. Many international athletes, especially those who have been competing in the United States and Europe for a few years, understand a lot of English even if they cannot yet speak it. The more you relate to them as if you’re having a conversation between just the two of you, the more of their personality you will draw out.
  3. If you’re likely to be interviewing Kenyans, find clips of the top athletes on YouTube. Spend some time there getting used to the cadences and order of their sentences. A half-hour now will pay huge dividends later.
  4. Use short, simple sentences and ask one question at a time. Long, complex, multi-part questions can stymie a translator and will draw helpless looks from an athlete struggling with the language.
  5. The main language spoken by Ethiopia’s athletes is called Amharic, not Ethiopian. You will score extra-credit points with everyone involved by not making that common mistake!
Categories: Human Interest

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