The London 2012 Olympic Games officially kick off in Cardiff today with the group stages of the women’s football. In a year when London and the UK will be literally “welcoming the world,” our ability to communicate in foreign languages has never been more important. The 2012 Olympics will see athletes from more than 220 countries compete for Gold and consequently our ability to communicate on a basic level is becoming a hot topic.

One way to overcome the language barrier is Apple’s new app, VoiceTra4U-M. This inventive way of making communication easier involves speaking into an iPhone which then interprets the speech into a given language and speaks back. The app is going to be available during the Olympics which will enable developers to gather information and expand the scope of conversation topics. At the moment it is designed purely to help with basic tourist related subjects including directions, hotels, airports and shops but initial suggestions are that this limited subject range means it is 80-90% accurate.

So, could this really signal the beginning of the end of only being able to communicate with non English speakers by learning another language? I don’t think so, but whilst giving this some thought here are the top 5 language facts of the London 2012 Olympic Games:

  1. French is the first language of the Olympics courtesy of the French founding father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin and consequently signage and pageantry will be bilingual and medal ceremonies will be conducted first in French and then in English.
  2. Language skills were identified as one of the top 10 requirements of volunteers at the Olympic Games.
  3. Some estimates say that up to 180 different languages will be represented at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
  4. There are hundreds of different ethnic communities in London alone who in total speak around 300 languages.
  5. It is not only professional translators and interpreters who will be providing language skills during the Olympics – language barriers need to be overcome in all areas from ticket sales and caterers to the emergency services and public transport workers, which is why London Underground has already started to embed languages in its training and recruitment policies.

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