Gold Medal in Linguistics: RIO Olympics 2016

RIO Olympics

Over 204 countries and territories participated in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to a report by Statista, about 220 countries and territories broadcast the event in their native language. Multilingual athletes and multilingual broadcasting have driven up the demand for translation and interpretation services, including for medical purposes, transportation, press conferences, and broadcasting. What was the linguistic mosaic and what were the main challenges of the Olympic Games in Rio?

French Was More than the Official Language

Traditionally, the Olympic games have three official languages: French, English, and the official language of the games host country. French became an official language in 1894, when the International Olympic Committee was formed in Lausanne, the capital of the canton of Vaud, in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the founder of the Committee and French has since been an official language in the Olympics. De Coubertin viewed the Games as a way to promote peace and cross-cultural dialogue. This past summer French was also announced as one of the official languages of the Olympics, in commemoration of the Paris attacks on November 2015. French was used in the opening and closing ceremonies, to pay respect to the victims, in accordance with de Coubertin’s vision of the Games as a means of cross-cultural communication and peace.

Volunteer Language Training Prior to the Games

In 2014, two years prior to the RIO Olympics, Brazil undertook a massive language training program. Education First partnered with the International Olympic Committee to train more than one million Brazilians (including school children, taxi drivers, and contractors) to speak a second language. The impoverished socioeconomic status of many Brazilians has limited the ability of the majority of them to learn and study other languages, as only the wealthy classes have traditionally had access to language education.  The training course was aimed at teaching volunteers the basics of a second language in advance of the games, to facilitate the welcome of athletes and the smooth running of the Olympic Games. Previously, in both the Olympics of 1988 and 2008, Education First had provided language training in Seoul and Beijing. During the Rio Olympics, the Chief Technology Officer of Education First outlined its mission: to become the world’s largest language program and to “leave a legacy” for the 2016 games.

What Does the Future Hold?

According to early predictions, the RIO 2016 Olympics might be one of the last Olympics making use of live human translators and interpreters. In order to tackle the challenges that come with providing translation and interpretation services on a large scale for such a big event, the 2020 Olympic Committee in Japan has started a plan for the creation of an automatic translation service that will operate between Korean and popular languages (English, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, German and Russian).

However, contrary to popular belief, translation software and applications have not decreased the demand for high-quality human translation that could have otherwise harmed the profession. Translation technologies, if anything, have acted as catalysts to generate more demand for human translation, and have helped boost human translation productivity.

According to a report from Common Sense Advisory, an independent market research firm, the demand for language services is increasing at an annual rate of 12.17 percent. Many people predict that translation will die as artificial intelligence and computer-aided translation software become more ubiquitous. However, with ever increasing interconnectedness of the world, human translation is in fact increasing in demand and has never been as important to global business and society as it is in the 21st century.

This article is written by a professional writer, Ilaria Ghelardoni, associated with Ulatus.  


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