Shrewsbury School

Sports journalist highlights importance of languages in the workplace

Friday 12 February 2021

Sports broadcast journalist and linguist Chris Dennis has been to the school in person before to conduct interactive workshops and returned, in virtual form, to talk about his work as a journalist and the role of languages in the workplace and in the world.

He has been freelancing for a long time, working for the BBC for 20 years for example. He attended the Emirates stadium religiously to interview the great Arsène Wenger and has worked with all the tennis grand slams and numerous athletics events, such as the Olympics, World Championships and Diamond League events.

Chris travels all round the world to commentate, announce, interview and report primarily on sporting events. He has interviewed, often straight after an event, the likes of Mo Farrah, Usain Bolt, Arsène Wenger and Paula Radcliffe. He has worked on all the big marathons and commentated on Eliud Kipchoge’s record sub-2-hour marathon time in Austria in 2019.

As a fluent speaker of French, German and Spanish, plus degree level Chinese, he has had access to interviews with many more athletes and sports personalities than the majority of monolingual journalist would have had. It is the added linguistic skills that add to employability – he has broadcasted in French in fact. He has interviewed Roger Federer in German, Arsène Wenger in French and Rafael Nadal in Spanish.

The foreign language often helps by putting an interviewee at their ease, and then facilitates a two-way, which we discovered is when the interview is conducted in e.g. French, then immediately afterward Chris goes on radio to report on the interview. Chris conducted an example of a two-way, starring John Bugge (Ch,L), who coped admirably with the pressure.

Chris also shared the voicepiece with us, where he creates a concise written summary, usually of a sports event, then records or speaks live to camera. It is a particular skill to write formally and with such concision.

Chris often receives press releases that are not in English, so he is at an advantage, being able to rapidly read the material and create reports; some reporters struggle even to pronounce athletes’ names correctly. Reporting can be tricky in some countries where the authorities may be suspicious of foreign reporters, so being able to translate and speak quickly before being moved on can be an advantage.

Chris strongly believes that, post-Brexit, languages will be more, not less important: languages are vital in business, security and diplomacy. One study has shown that linguistic incompetence has cost the UK £50 bn a year in lost trade and investment.

Chris still thinks French is the most useful language, Chinese also remains significant, with Spanish increasingly relevant. He stressed that German is being underestimated and should not be sidelined. The British Council’s top 5 languages by importance to the UK could surprise some:

  1. Spanish
  2. Chinese
  3. French
  4. Arabic
  5. German

And then:

  1. Portuguese
  2. Russian
  3. Italian
  4. Turkish
  5. Japanese

Lockdown has caused many to refresh their foreign languages or take up a new language. Brexit has created ‘global Britain’ – we need people to have linguistic skills to adapt to the changing world.

Tim Whitehead, Head of Modern Lanuages.

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