Communicating the Olympics

Communicating the Olympics

How language professionals get the message across in the world of sport

If you like watching sport, the summer of 2024 will be your idea of bliss. The Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games and the football – soccer for some of you – European Championships in Germany should fill many happy hours of TV viewing. And of course, there are all the annual crowd-pleasers like the Tour de France, Wimbledon, Formula One and golfing majors. These global events bring together athletes, spectators, journalists, officials and volunteers from many nations who speak many languages. Communicating effectively and inclusively is an integral part of the organization of international sports.

These intersections of sporting excellence can’t function without multilingual understanding.

The Olympic Games present by far and away the biggest linguistic challenge. At Paris 2024 around 10,500 competitors from 206 countries (officially National Olympic Committees) will be in the hunt for the medals. Although there are only two official languages at the Olympics – French and English – many more are needed to make the Games run smoothly.

Language in practice at the Olympics

With so many nationalities converging, organizers must consider language in multiple contexts. From the basics like signage for getting around or health and safety instructions to information for competitors and their teams to multilingual press conferences and televised interviews, communication is at the top of the agenda.

As well as French and English, there are four other languages – Spanish, Russian, Arabic and German – that are included in the Olympic Charter. At all sessions of the Games, simultaneous interpretation in these six languages must be provided, although more are usually added. Beyond that there are many other languages to consider, particularly for the participants. Multilingual volunteers are often on hand to help the sporting elite navigate the athletes’ village, training facilities and venues.

Translation of documents and official texts, of course, starts months before the games themselves and preparations naturally involve language from the outset. Olympic Committee meetings, press releases, athletes’ information and medical records, websites and apps are among the texts that need multilingual treatment. Planning for the arrival of 15 million visitors from across the continents means making sure they can get around the Olympic cities and venues with ease.

Let’s take a look in more detail at some indispensable translation processes used at big sporting occasions.

Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI)

At the delayed Tokyo Games in 2021, a team of almost 100 professional conference interpreters was assembled in the main press centre, covering eleven languages from twenty individual booths. It was the first time the interpreting at the Games had been done remotely, due largely to the effect of the pandemic, and meant linguists weren’t at the mercy of busy transport networks for travelling to each venue. These simultaneous translations for interviews and press conferences were available to everybody via an app.

As is now common at other big sporting events, many interpreters are not even on-site for the Olympics. Advancing technology enables them to do the work from the comfort of their own office or home and greatly simplifies the logistics of language provision. Although some leading figures in international sport (think Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa) might still sit next to their personal interpreter, the norm today is to be connected to the linguist by technology. At a recent press conference, the England football star Jude Bellingham happily popped his earbuds in whenever a question wasn’t asked in his native language. And at the other end of the high-speed telecommunication cable? A trained and experienced interpreter enabling multilingual exchange.

Remote simultaneous interpreting happens at the same moment the words are spoken in the original language and it is often used for large-scale events like conferences, webinars or governmental sessions where many languages are needed all at once. This is in comparison to video remote interpreting, which is done consecutively, with the interpreter waiting for the speaker to pause before performing the translation. This latter would be more suited to small meetings and discussions.

RSI has been made possible by leveraging the increased capacity and security of cloud computing and the accessibility of smart devices which when combined, produce lag-free, instant communication. By reducing the need for in-person interpreters RSI has created greater flexibility and ease of use, bringing this efficient way of exchanging language to increasing numbers of organizations.

Captioning and Subtitles

The global broadcasting audience for the Tokyo Olympics was over 3 billion people and many more watched on apps, websites and social media. According to the International Olympic Committee, there were 28 billion views ‘on Olympic broadcast partners’ digital platforms alone’.

The Olympic Games is one of the most widely watched sporting events globally.

The Games hosts its own dedicated Olympic channel which it makes available in 12 languages 365 days a year. If you add to that, podcasts and all the social media platforms, that’s a lot of content that has to be both multilingual and accessible. During the Games themselves, broadcasters must cater to a huge number of viewers who need many different languages – and in real-time. Subtitles, captions and a big dose of technology make this possible.

Subtitles and captions are not the same. The former provides an on-screen text version of the audio in another language. Subtitles are designed to help viewers understand the dialogue when they don’t speak the language used in the video. Captions can be open or closed and transcribe (reproduce in text format), the dialogue in the same language as the video. They also describe the sound effects and background noises.  Open captions are permanently displayed and closed captions can be turned on or off.

Today most video content includes captioning and it is increasingly common, especially among younger generations, to leave captions ‘on’ as an aid to understanding, not just for those who may be hard of hearing or deaf, but for anyone watching.

Whereas with subtitles and captioning for some common media types – movies, television, e-learning – there is time for significant human expert input, with live events subtitles or captions must be created in real-time and technology advances are greatly enabling the processes involved. AI-infused machine translation and automatic speech recognition are making instant subtitling and captioning possible and while still not perfect, they are valuable tools for bringing global events to as big an audience as possible.

Artificial intelligence at the Olympics

AI is making its presence felt across the Paris Olympics. It will power automatically generated highlights, provide interactive experiences for fans and help enable voice navigation for those who are visually impaired. AI is also being used to guide visitors around Paris and the Olympic venues. 6,000 human agents at public transport stations will use an automatic translation app on handheld devices to make sure sports lovers don’t get lost on the quirky metro system. This will work between French and 16 other languages.

Significantly, artificial intelligence will monitor social media accounts in real-time and in 35 languages to help protect athletes from online abuse, identified rightly as a key challenge for the organizers in ensuring the well-being and safety of competitors.

The business crossover

The Olympic Games might take the headlines when it comes to modern global communications but many of these systems are used every day in business worldwide, enabling international trade and commercial transactions.

Instead of press briefings and interviews, think panel discussions, virtual meetings and conference calls. And while live company TV channels are less likely, e-learning materials and marketing videos extend their reach considerably with translation via voice-over, subtitling or dubbing. Business relationships benefit hugely from seamless multilingual interaction, made possible by a careful mix of human expertise and cutting-edge technology.

t-works can provide all these translation services for your business events. We offer top-quality, individually adapted interpreting both consecutive and simultaneous, as well as multilingual solutions for all your audiovisual and interactive content.

We bring language, technology and people together to make global easy. Contact us today.

Your personal contact

Marie-Laure Vinckx

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