In part two of our interview with Marc Joss, football translator and interpreter, we talk to Marc about his interpreting work with the likes of West Ham, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Part one of the interview available here.

So tell us a bit about the interpreting. You do both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting?

Yes. So with consecutive interpreting (where the interpreter waits for the speaker to finish an idea, and then renders their words into the target language) it’s usually a journalist interviewing foreign players. They’ll ask the questions in English, the player will answer – it could be a twenty-second answer, it could be a two-minute answer – and I’ll make notes and say the answer in English.


Simultaneous interpreting in action.

I’ve also done simultaneous interpretation (where the interpreter speaks at the same time as the subject, usually sitting in a separate booth and speaking into a microphone) for Guillem Balagué, which was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. It was a talk with Guillem, Fernando Hierro and Alfredo Relaño (head of Spanish sports newspaper AS). I was doing simultaneous interpreting in a booth for the English-speaking audience. Guillem and Fernando Hierro were fine, but with Alfredo Relaño and a few of his anecdotes involving politics and the Spanish civil war…that was something else!

And do players or managers get any guidance for how to work with interpreters? It must be difficult for them to speak ‘through’ someone else.

Not specifically. I’ll have a chat with the player beforehand. If I know the journalist is going to ask a specific question, I’ll let the player know, say ‘you might want to think about this…’, but that’s it. When it’s one-on-one it’s fine, and the best thing is to build up a rapport, make sure you’re comfortable with how the player speaks.

And is it just media work?  You’re not helping them around the club, with training for example?

As far as I know that doesn’t happen. Someone in the dressing room will help out. It’s unlikely you’d have someone with no clue and no-one to help out.  So at West Ham there are lots of French and Spanish speakers whose English is excellent and between them they work together to get the message across.

How do the clubs view interpreters?

Well there’s a balance, because the players have to do these interviews, and if they want to do it in their own language then the clubs respect that and get an interpreter in.  But on the other side the club wants players to learn the language, so that they can be integrated, understand what’s going on and enjoy themselves both on and off the pitch.

Romance languages have levels of formality which don’t exist in the same way in English, for example with the formal and informal version of the word ‘you’. How do you deal with this when talking to footballers?

That’s a very interesting one because it’s something you can never truly grasp if you’re not a native, and even across the different Romance language the usage varies drastically. I’ve said to Spanish friends “I’m about to interview Diego Costa, he’s the same age as me, would you use (informal word for ‘you’) or usted (formal for ‘you’)?” and I’ve had mixed responses even from natives. The safer option is to go with the more formal version, but if it’s a light-hearted interview where you’re asking them “who’s the most fun on a night out?”, it doesn’t quite match up.

If it’s a manager, that’s easy – go formal. If it’s a player and especially if they’re younger than me, I often wonder if they’re thinking “I can’t believe he’s using usted“. I usually go with usted unless there is a good reason not to.

If I’m just chatting to players I know before and after the interview I’ll go with .  I think for interviews it can sound better to have the more formal aspect, even if I know the player and have met them before.

English players are often very highly media trained, to the point that they often say very little of interest. Is that the same in other languages?

The phrases used and the general message is always very similar. Certain players have a laugh and make it a bit more interesting. The big difference is managers, because they talk about more complicated topics so, in my experience, it’s harder to interpret for them.

For example, over the summer West Ham played Lusitans and I did the press conference for their manager who spoke Spanish. The match wasn’t hugely exciting and I was expecting him to say ‘they gave it their all,’ ‘looking forward to the next game’ – the classics – but he came in and he really wanted to have an argument with Slaven Bilic, because the Croat hadn’t been in the dugout for the game.

I was initially a bit taken aback by his fierce digs in Spanish, especially as I’m not a confrontational guy in any way, but I had to put myself in the Lusitans’ manager’s shoes and effectively have a fight with Slaven Bilic on his behalf (and anyone who saw him play would know that’s not a wise idea)! Fair to say the journalists in attendance lapped it up – it may well have been the most explosive presser in Europa League first round qualifying history.

There must be a very different football vocabulary across all the Spanish-speaking countries, for example. So you have massive variation even within one language. How do you handle that?

It takes some getting used to – what they say in Mexico or Argentina might differ dramatically. I handle that by making lists, I’ve got tons of them filled with vocabulary and idioms. Whenever I meet the players beforehand I tell them I’m English, I don’t know if they consciously make an effort [to change the way they speak] because of that but I’ve never been caught out…not yet at least!

Italian is more just accents rather than vocabulary. With French luckily there aren’t any French Canadians because that would be a complete nightmare from my experience! In terms of francophone Africa, with the Senegalese players at West Ham – Sakho and Kouyaté – it’s more of an accent thing rather than vocabulary.

Catch up with Marc on Twitter, take a look around or hear him in action below.