David Moyes’ arrival at Real Sociedad has been met with initial good will; here is an individual, taking an opportunity across the continent, at a club he believes is a good fit for his career revival. While the football club itself strikes similarities to that of Everton, undoubtedly the eyebrows have been collectively raised as to its location. Moyes has had no previous experience of football outside the UK and there will be immediate concerns regarding communication, although – of course – interpreters and enthusiastic gestures will no doubt bridge the linguistic gap.
Inevitably, comparisons have been raised with Steve McLaren, another ex-Manchester United employee who enjoyed two successful seasons in charge of Twente, followed by a disappointing flirtation with the Bundesliga at Wolfsburg. It could be argued that Moyes has a trickier task in San Sebastian than McLaren had in Enschede – people will no doubt speak English across the Basque Country but not to the same extent and fluency as in the Netherlands.
Perhaps Moyes will take inspiration from McLaren’s public attempts at learning a language, popularly demonstrated in this interview:
This exchange still seems bizarre today but it does demonstrate an aspect of language which all of us will have experienced at some point in our lives, consciously or not. Howard Giles, Professor of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, developed the Communication Accommodation Theory to explain such phenomena. He argued that, when in the company of a particular individual or social group we wish to impress, we begin to adopt their phonological traits; we start to imitate the sounds and gestures of our desired audience. We probably do it all the time when talking with people we admire or aspire to, regardless of however much we believe in our own sense of self-control.
Further evidence of this can be found from another chapter in the motley life of Joey Barton:
Both examples indicate a mutual desire to be accepted and integrated by their host clubs and regions. Both men are also seeking some form of redemption away from the intense scrutiny attached to the English Premier League.
With this in mind, it could be argued further that what is evidenced by McLaren and Barton isn’t just a subconscious mirroring of peer accents. It is probable that both men were actively encouraged to adopt the accents of their respective hosts and – given their eagerness to reinvent themselves abroad – they were most likely complicit in doing so. In learning a language, it is often pronunciation that can prove problematic; by consciously adopting the accents and intonation of a language, the overall acquisition process will improve and maybe even expedite.
In this interview with Clare Balding, Barton is asked about his interview for French television and his answer serves to confirm that – while there may have been some conscious motives behind imitating the native accent and body language of the region – his actions were largely innate:
As to whether or not Moyes follows a similar approach in learning Spanish is debatable and – at this stage – fairly premature. Undoubtedly, he will be keen to integrate as quickly as possible in order to get the best out of his team. If the Sociedad players are willing to learn English as a result of Moyes’ arrival, then the least he can do is take all language acquisition techniques into consideration. It may not be a surprise to find David Moyes adapting his orbital Glaswegian burr to that of a Spanish equivalent*, but before he does get stuck into learning Spanish, he should at least remember the names of his players.
*One aspect of Moyes’ native Scottish accent which could prove beneficial is the voiceless velar fricative [x], commonly used at the end of the word loch or the popular Scotticism “Och aye the noo”. The same sound can be heard in Spanish words such as jamon (ham), reloj (watch) and in Spanish pronunciation of México.