Does Brazil consider English unnecessary for hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup?

Does Brazil consider English unnecessary for hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup?

May 12, 2014

By Ofer Tirosh

With final preparations underway for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil is under the global spotlight in terms of its linguistic abilities. With 99% of the population speaking Portuguese and the country only ranking 38th in terms of English language proficiency according to Education First, will Brazil be ready to receive the 600,000 visitors planning to descend on it?

Ofer Tirosh, Chief Executive of leading translation agency Tomedes, thinks not: “The problem with the Brazil World Cup will be visitors struggling to make themselves understood in hotels, shops and restaurants. We have to remember, though, that Brazil has experience in this area –Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival attracts more than 500,000 foreign visitors annually. 

“Thankfully, with the proliferation of translation services across the globe, language barriers are not the issue that once they were. The organisers of global sporting events are well practised in the art of presenting multilingual viewings.”

While English is taught in schools in Brazil, most citizens don’t speak it. After Portuguese, Spanish is the most understood language due to the similarities between the two, while some municipalities have German and indigenous tongues as co-official languages. Nowhere in Brazil is English a co-official language. 

As a World Cup host, Brazil’s lack of other languages is likely to present something of a problem for the 600,000 international tourists planning to descend on the country for the four-week-long event. The lack of English may also present problems for those attending the 2016 Olympic Games, which are also being held in Brazil and of which English is the official language. 

China experienced a similar conundrum for the 2008 Olympics, starting from a very low fluency point. The country took a proactive approach to improving levels of English fluency, rolling out basic language classes as part of a learning programme for all those involved in the Games. The initiative inspired many citizens to learn English, resulting in impressive enhancements in China’s English abilities. 

While a range of individual English language initiatives are underway in Brazil, such as the collaboration between PlugMinas, the Government of Minas Gerais, Cambridge English Language Assessment and Cultura Inglesa (an educational institution in Belo Horizonte), a national approach to learning English seems to be lacking. 

Tomedes’ Ofer Tirosh adds: “At Tomedes we have seen a rise in the number of requests to translate documents to and from Portuguese. Business translations have been requested by companies looking to form global partnerships with Brazilian businesses. One can’t help but think, therefore, that Brazil is missing an opportunity to more effectively market itself worldwide by its lack of English language preparation.”

The data suggests that Brazil would be well placed to roll out an English language programme if it wished to do so. The country already has some 6,215 franchises of over 70 language schools, according to the Brazilian Franchising Association. If the government and language schools combined to sell the idea of learning English to the population, their market would be huge – four fifths of middle class Brazilians (around 100 million people) only speak Portuguese, according to the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics.

Nevertheless, it seems that individuals and companies in Brazil are taking matters into their own hands. With citizens taking a proactive approach, and the support of translation companies such as Tomedes, football fans around the globe can rest assured that the 2014 FIFA World Cup should be delivered without too many linguistic stumbling blocks. 


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