There is a problem with players learning languages in the different countries that they play in. Because of the basic pay structures all around Europe, and a fresh and seemingly endless supply of foreign athletes each year, most contracts are usually one season…especially for rookies. Most vets do not get multi-year contracts and tend to bounce around. Journeyman (or journeywoman) takes on a totally different meaning when it comes to basketball players overseas.

Because of this fact, most players do not bother to learn the language where they are playing because it is unsure if they will be playing there after the current season. They may end up in a different country with another language for their next season. Why would they invest time in learning a language that they may never use again?

I can only speak for myself but I learned German pretty quickly, but I was hesitant at first because I planned to get great stats and move on to possibly Italy the next season. A broken Tibia two months after my arrival changed those plans though, and I suddenly had more time. I was fortunate enough to sign a new contract for the next season in my hospital bed two days later, so my motivation to learn German had changed.

And those of you that know me, understand that I can barely add 2 plus 2, but I am somehow pretty good with languages. That side of my brain works somehow. I became interested in learning German because I knew I would be there much longer than I had expected and I wanted to be independent. I hated to always ask a teammate to translate or take me to the store with him to figure out what to buy. I wanted to do things on my own.

I have a few tips that may help you out if you decide you would like to learn a new language.

  1. Watch TV in the native language and better yet, watch shows that you have already seen in English. I never took a German class. You may laugh, but I picked up a lot of my basic German vocabulary by watching The Simpsons in German. I knew all the episodes already so I started to understand what individual words or phrases meant because I knew what Bart said.
  2. Another thing I did very early was to try and read the sports page of the local newspaper. I started only reading the basketball articles after games because I could figure out what they were talking about based on how we played. That also helped with my vocabulary. As I got better, I branched out into other sports topics and I got good rather quickly.
  3. Befriend native speakers outside of your teammates and ask questions about their language. After I got out of the hospital, I could not move around in my apartment because of all the steps. I was lucky enough that a young player on my team offered for me to live with his family for a while until I could get around better. What was supposed to be a month ended up being MONTHS! They pretty much adopted me. The mom spoke no English but if she asked me if I wanted to eat, I understood that very clearly. I learned more about the grammatical structure by living with them and how sentences are formed which is different than in English.
  4. Listen to how Americans speak that language. I was also lucky to have two Americans on my team that had been overseas for years and could more or less speak German. Hearing them speak German with an American accent was a huge help to me. Often, that was how I learned how NOT to say things correctly haha, but seriously hearing your accent saying words in a foreign language is very helpful.
  5. And lastly, back then in the overseas basketball stone ages when I first came here, the internet was not like it is now. Back then I carried a small English/German dictionary with me wherever I went. It was my smartphone. These days, there are so many apps such as Duolingo that can help you. There is no need to study for hours a day, but if you do a little bit each day, by the end of the season you probably will not be fluent, but you will surely be able to order food or have a basic conversation. That will be enough to impress your family because they won’t understand what the hell you are saying anyway. The first time I went home, I told my mom in German, “I walked down the street yesterday” and she was blown away!

I get it that some of you will not want to invest the time to learn a new language every year. Not everyone will stay overseas as I did. Being fluent in German opened doors for me that would have remained closed had I chosen not to learn though. Just understanding a bit, will broaden your horizons, and truthfully it may even help in contract negotiations if you become a team identity figure because the fans love that you can communicate with them in their language. 

Let’s be real, as a pro athlete, you will have time. It is just a question of will. I hope these tips may motivate you to think outside your box and explore the possibility of learning a new language.

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