Languages of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup

June 6, 2018
Languages of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup

It’s that time again. For the next month, from 14 June to 15 July, football fans across the world will be rooting for their nation as the 2018 FIFA World Cup action unfolds. At the same time, those providing professional translation services in support of the football will be hard at work in Russia, helping teams to feel as settled and relaxed as possible in the local environment while they prepare for their games. 

World Cup facts

A total of 209 nations entered the qualifying process, while Russia qualified automatically as the host nation. The entrants have been whittled down to 32 teams, ready for the main event to begin in mid-June. The supporting officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – come from 46 different countries. 

Interestingly, this will be the first World Cup to feature four qualified Arab nations (Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco) and three Nordic entrants (Iceland, Sweden and Denmark). Notable absences this year will be Italy, who failed to qualify for the first time in 60 years, the Netherlands and the United States, who are facing their first qualification failure since 1986. 

World Cup language facts

In honour of the 2018 World Cup, and the role that human translation services play in facilitating this great sporting event, the Tomedes team has rounded up 32 language facts – one for each nation taking part. 

Australia: English. The word ‘football’ (or ‘footy’) refers to Australian rules football when used in Victoria. However, in Queensland and New South Wales, ‘football’ refers to rugby. 

Iran: Persian. While Persian is the Lingua Franca of Iran, it is estimated that just 53% of Iranians speak it as their main language. Azerbaijani, other Turkic dialects and Kurdish are all spoken by 10% or more of the population, with a wide range of other languages also in use. 

Japan: Japanese. There have been many attempts to understand how Japanese relates to other languages, but certainty still doesn’t exist. One popular theory is that Japanese is a member of the Altaic language family, like Korean. 

Saudi Arabia: Arabic. Just a few scripts are read from right to left, with Arabic being the most common of them (it is also the most commonly used writing system in the world). Other scripts that read from right to left include Hebrew and the Mende script. 

South Korea: Korean. While the two Korean nations speak the same language, their split in 1953 has led to differences in how that language has evolved. Today, the Korean spoken in South Korea shows evidence of borrowing extensively from English. 

Egypt: Arabic. Egypt is largely responsible for homogenizing Arabic across dialects, as around 75% of all Arab movies are produced there. 

Morocco: Arabic and Berber. Morocco has two official languages, with 80-90% of the population speaking Arabic and 25-30% speaking Berber. Berber is spoken within homes and on the streets of Morocco, but no written version is used. 

Nigeria: English. While English is the most commonly spoken language in Nigeria, the country is home to 520 languages in total. Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Urhobo, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde and Kanuri are some of the most widely spoken.

Senegal: French. Although French is Senegal’s official language, Wolof is the country’s most widely spoken language. Around 40% of Senegalese speak Wolof as their first language, while most other Senegalese speak it as a second language. 

Tunisia: Arabic. Arabic is known for being one of the hardest languages to learn. The average learner needs 2,200 class hours to become proficient.

Costa Rica: Spanish. Costa Rican Spanish features so many instances of the diminutive -ico at the end of words that Costa Ricans are colloquially called ‘ticos.’

Mexico: Spanish. While Spanish is used for most official purposes in Mexico, it is just one of 69 national languages. In addition to the 68 indigenous national languages, many more languages and dialects are spoken. According to Ethnologue, Mexicans speak a total of 287 distinct languages across the country. 

Panama: Spanish. Panamanian Spanish features shortened words, with the last syllable or consonant frequently omitted. It is officially classified as Caribbean Spanish, as it bears more resemblance to that than to Central American Spanish. 

Argentina: Spanish. Although Spanish is the de facto official language of Argentina, the country is home to 40 indigenous and immigrant languages. Several of these face extinction as a result of younger generations not learning them. 

Brazil: Portuguese. Brazilian and European Portuguese sound very different, but differ little in their formal written form. 

Colombia: Spanish. While the term ‘Colombian Spanish’ is used to describe all of the Spanish dialects spoken in Colombia, they actually vary significantly, from the conservative Spanish of the highlands to the more phonologically innovative Spanish of coastal areas. 

Peru: Spanish. Spanish is Peru’s official language, but it is a multilingual country which has Quechua and Aymara as co-official languages. Around 19% of the population natively speaks one of these two languages. 

Uruguay: Spanish. The majority of Uruguayans speak Spanish, although the country is also home to some 28,000 Portuguese speakers. Some Uruguayans along the border with Brazil also speak Portuñol – a mix of Spanish and Portuguese. 

Belgium: Dutch. Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Freedom of language is enshrined in the country’s constitution, although for administrative purposes Belgium is divided into four regions. These are the Dutch, French and German-speaking regions, plus the bilingual Brussels Capital area. 

Croatia: Croatian. There is no regulatory body in charge of the proper use of Croatian. Instead, the language is guided by the grammar books and dictionaries authorised for use by the Ministry of Education. 

Denmark: Danish. The Danish language allows words to be added together to form longer, more descriptive words. This results in some very long words! The longest is speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode, which means “period of plan stabilising for a specialist doctor’s practice.”

England: English. A new word is added to the English dictionary every two hours, meaning that some 4,000 new words are added every year. 

France: French. The French language is taught in every country, with 100 million students and two million teachers around the world. 

Germany: German. German has several words which cannot be directly translated into other languages. Luftschloss is used to refer to an unrealistic dream, while heimat is the positive relationship between a person and their homeland. 

Iceland: Icelandic. Iceland works hard to keep its language pure. As such, new scientific terms (for example) are created in Icelandic rather than borrowed from other languages. 

Poland: Polish. The longest word in Polish has an impressive 54 letters. It is dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowego, which translates roughly to, “of nine-hundred and ninety-nine nationalities.”

Portugal: Portuguese. Over 500 Portuguese words are derived from Arabic. The use of ‘al’ at the start of a word is indicative of its Arabic origins. The Algarve region, for example, is derived from the Arabic for ‘the west’ – although it is actually in the south! 

Russia: Russian. Russia has 27 co-official languages, but Russian is the official language. Along with English, Russia is also the official language of space, with astronauts having to learn Russian. The International Space Station’s computer system uses both English and Russian to operate. 

Serbia: Serbian. It’s polite to say prijatno in Serbia if you walk past a family having dinner out. It means a combination of ‘good health’ and ‘bon apetit.’

Spain: Spanish. Spanish is the world’s second most widely spoken language, with more than 400 million speakers. It is the official language in 21 countries. 

Sweden: Swedish. There is no word for ‘please’ in Swedish. Asking politely and saying tack (thank you) suffices. 

Switzerland: German. German is the most commonly spoken language in Switzerland, with 63% of the population speaking it. However, French (23%) and Italian (8%) are also official languages. 

Final thoughts

If you enjoyed reading our 2018 Russia World Cup language facts, why not head over to our language facts page? You can even add facts of your own to entertain your fellow linguists! 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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