Diving into Language Barriers at the 2016 Olympic Games

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In just a short while, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is expected to be a cultural “melting pot” when approximately 500,000 visitors from 200 countries will gather for the 2016 Olympic Games. This year, French is the official language of the Rio games as homage to the victims of the Paris terror attacks. With 99 percent of the population in Brazil are Portuguese speakers, and thousands of international guests, it presents a communication challenge to the Rio Olympic Committee.

Hurdling the Language Barrier

The impoverished socioeconomic status of many Brazilians limits the opportunity to learn and study other languages, as only the wealthy classes have traditionally had access to this kind of education. One way the Committee is addressing these challenges is by offering free English courses to Rio taxi drivers. Learning simple conversational phrases make it easier for tourists and drivers to communicate, and will hopefully contribute to a rise in prosperity for those in the Brazilian service industry during this international event. The classes were online and spanned about four months.

In addition, 8,000 volunteer translators were recruited for the games. The process began in 2014 to recruit qualified linguists to be the “voice of the games.” Interpreters and translators will deliver services  in more than 30 languages, some of which include English, Portuguese, French, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Arabic, Farsi, Thai, Romanian, Amharic, Swahili, Belarusian, Slovak, Turkish, Indonesian (Bahasa), Croatian, Czech, Lithuanian, Polish, Serbian, Urdu, Greek, Finnish and Filipino.

The Olympic interpreters will provide consecutive and simultaneous language services to the 10,000+ athletes in attendance. Other duties include interpreting for guest services, medical purposes, transportation, press conferences, event announcements and more. Interpreters are provided with uniforms, meals, transportation, and a certificate of participation from the Rio Olympic committee.

The Rio Summer Olympic Games begin August 5 and will conclude August 21. Forty-two sports will be featured and for the first time in 112 years, golf is making an appearance. This year’s Olympiad is hosted for first time in South America and will feature 306 tournaments, 136 medals for women, 161 medals for men and nine mixed medals.


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