Sam Maguire

Mayo Legends

This is an important sporting weekend for me. My home county, Mayo, is playing against Donegal for the Sam Maguire Cup, in the All-Ireland football final. The last time we won this competition was in 1951. We’ve been in the final many times since but just haven’t been able to go the extra mile. Hopefully that will change today. Most of you reading this will have no idea what Gaelic football is. It was constituted as a sport in 1887 and was part of a determined effort to promote Gaelic games and Irish culture on our island, while Ireland was still under the rule of the British Empire. It was founded on a strictly amateur ethos and had to compete with rugby and association football (soccer) for popularity. The most interesting aspect of the sport is its tribal nature. You’ll say that all team sports are tribal but Gaelic football is strict in that sense. To play for one’s county and win an All-Ireland, is the highest honour for a player. Only players who are born, live and work in the county can play for their county. There is no transfer system for players, unless you happen to live and work in a different county for an extended period, so as a result changing allegiance is unusual. Players do not receive payment for playing, although there are reimbursements for expenses. Players hold down full-time jobs and train 4 times per week, after work in the evening with games at weekends, and have the fitness levels of professional athletes.

Each of the 32 counties can take part in the All-Ireland Championship. The 4 provinces in Ireland: Ulster, Munster Leinster and Connacht, are involved in play-offs until a champion emerges from each province. Mayo are the Connacht champions this year, while Donegal are the champions of Ulster. There are a further series of games until the two finalists are decided. The final takes place on the 3rd Sunday of each September.

The final is played in Croke Park (Páirc an Chrócaigh), and is watched by 82,000 spectators; an incredible statistic for an amateur competition and a testament to the importance of Gaelic games in Irish life. The sport has endured even with the overwhelming global evolution of football in England and the development of rugby in terms of popularity.

Of no less importance for many Irish people this weekend is the most important derby game of the English football year, Liverpool vs Man United. Although coming from different cities they are separated by a mere 35 miles and more importantly by 1 title (United having won 19 and Liverpool 18), being without doubt the two most successful sides in English football. I’m regularly asked why it is that so many Irish are passionate about English football; Man United and Liverpool in particular. The answer surely lies in the fact that United and Liverpool both hail from traditionally working-class, immigrant cities with huge Irish populations. Another reason is that the best Irish players have always played club football in England. An example of this is Kevin Moran, who won two All-Ireland finals with Dublin and then went on to win two FA cups with Manchester United.

Paul Scholes, who Zinedine Zidane said was the finest midfielder of his generation, had the following to say about United – Liverpool games; “Manchester United against Liverpool is always the first game I look out for when the fixtures come out. Maybe the games against City and Chelsea are now just as important because they are more of a threat in the league, but United and Liverpool are the two biggest clubs in English football with huge, worldwide fan bases. It’s a massive game.”

And this for me is without doubt is one of the most significant aspects of this weekend from an Irish sporting point of view. It’s on the one hand a celebration of our culture, our identity and our stubborn determination to extol those characteristics which define us as Irish, while on the other hand a celebration of certain teams in the country of our former oppressors, which through emigration we helped to shape and build. It’s something that defines me as an Irishman, and something that makes me proud.

Come on Maigh Eo!

Highlights – Mayo vs Dublin All Ireland semi final 02/09/2012

Double Dutch

Dubbed

Hello again,

While on holiday in August I had the chance to drink a glass of wine with a Dutch couple. We spoke in English, although one of the couple was studying Italian and had a lot of difficulty in speaking it. She recounted how only that day in the supermarket she had asked the cashier ‘posso andare?’ instead of ‘posso pagare?’. The cashier was very confused by this of course, as one generally tends to pay before leaving the shop. She was highly embarrassed by this episode which she said she encounters regularly and which causes her particular frustration.

After a few minutes of small talk I was curious to know how it is that the Dutch speak English so well. They told me that they watch virtually all the films they see in English / original language with subtitles from when they are children. When children in The Netherlands go to see the new Batman / Spiderman and other non- Dutch films on a typical Sunday afternoon, they see them in the original language. Strangely, this doesn’t happen in the same way in Belgium,  where international films are shown in either French or Dutch and where the general standard of English is lower.

Applied linguist Kees de Bot has spoken on this subject with the BBC.

One Dutch applied linguist likes to speculate that there might be a correlation between language aptitude and intelligence. The reason why Dutch people have a reputation for being good at languages might be, therefore, that Dutch people are simply cleverer than other people. “Unfortunately,” says Kees de Bot, “the experience of having lived in that country for more than 50 years has made it absolutely clear to me that that cannot be the explanation.”

Instead, his research shows that the stereotype of the multilingual Dutch person isn’t entirely accurate. The Dutch aren’t amazing at languages generally; they just speak particularly good English. In fact, things really aren’t all that rosy for other languages in the Netherlands. The numbers of students taking French and German are in decline. University departments teaching other European languages are struggling to survive. Teaching minority languages such as Turkish and Arabic is no longer allowed during school hours. And other languages are hardly taught at all – just like in the UK. The main reason why the Dutch are so good at English, according to Kees de Bot’s analysis, is that English is highly visible and valued in mainstream culture. Most of the music Dutch kids listen to is in English and the films they watch are mostly in English. Most interesting, in my view, is the link between TV and being good at English. In the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, where proficiency in English is very high, English-language TV programmes are subtitled. In Germany, Spain and France, where fewer people speak English well, the TV programmes are dubbed.

Read the full extract on the BBC voices website.

Europe and Dubbing of Films and TV

The graphic on the left backs up what is stated in the article. Those countries in blue are those where English is more proficient and are the same countries where TV/ films are not dubbed (including countries in eastern Europe where proficiency levels are high with regard to English). The countries in red are generally less proficient in English and are those countries where dubbing is commonplace.

So to return to my original point, why did this Dutch woman communicate so confidently in English and so insecurely in Italian? The most obvious reason is because she had started studying English at a young age (this is also true of many Italians who aren’t so confident with the language, however). The most important reason is because she had been exposed to ‘natural’ English from a young age. And by ‘natural’ I mean television, music, cinema and so on. It’s generally not the type of language one comes across in schools.

The moral of this post; go on line and watch language clips, rent a movie, watch an English language program in the original language and don’t be discouraged if it’s difficult…it has to be. Then if you’re feeling really ambitious you can also decide to read a few pages of a book or some articles in English every week.

You can see in the video below why many English speakers have always disliked dubbing!