Everybody has been asked at least once in their life, this question. Theoretically completely different, sports and languages are actually connected and have many similarities. The links are so close that we can dare to make an analogy. In the same way that the professional athletes spend a lot of time studying tactics and preparing with a physical program, the language learner has to study books, grammar lessons… and most importantly, practice, in order to apply their knowledge. To reach their goal, they have to work hard, find motivation, persevere…
The power of sport
Veritable socialization factor, sport is a means to learn foreign languages and discover new cultures. As everybody knows doing sports is a means to facilitate integration, to improve self-confidence, to meet new people and to discover a new culture. But its universal aspect is also a way to opening conversation and breaking the ice between people from different countries.
Furthermore, practicing a sport with foreign people can help to integrate yourself in a group to the extent that it permits to reduce the language barrier. Indeed, during the physical effort, other aspects help to communicate such as the body language or even the specific vocabulary related to the sport that you are practicing.
It’s a means to immerse yourself in a foreign culture and create opportunities to put into practice your knowledge in a specific language. Indeed, with a physical activity you can integrate more easily new vocabulary because it will pass by an unconscious process. It’s a good means to match words with action. Furthermore, your reaction and your sentences will be more spontaneous and don’t need a preceding reflection time.
Creating different contexts, varied situations is key for enriching your knowledge.
In certain cases, you could discover that sport could be totally different depending on where you are based.
Let’s see for Ireland.
Sports in Ireland, a political subject
In Ireland sport and activities play a big role in the local communities and society in general, to the extent that it symbolizes political issues. To illustrate that, we note that the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded in 1884 in response to the creation of the Football Association and Rugby Football Union by the English. Its mission was to develop, promote and protect sports of Irish origin and reject the emerging influence of English Football.
Typically, in Ireland, three sports have been very famous for centuries:
- Gaelic Football
- Gaelic Handball
Focus on the Irish culture
– Gaelic football, a mix between Football, Rugby and Irish fighting spirit
Just one fact, to symbolize its importance, Irish people use the term “Football” to designate the Gaelic Football, as Americans, the Irish use “Soccer” to consider the main sport in the world, so don’t make the mistake of referring to soccer as football in Ireland. This shows clearly that Gaelic football is the most popular and most played sport in Ireland.
Gaelic Football is a distinctly Irish field invasion game played with a round football which can be caught, kicked and hand passed just as in rugby. It is played between two teams of 15 players. The ball used is round, slightly smaller than a soccer ball. Unlike rugby, however, after every four steps, the ball must be either bounced or “solo-ed”, an action of dropping the ball onto the foot and kicking it back into the hand. To score it’s a question of a mix between the two-famous sport in the world, you put the ball over the crossbar by foot or fist for one point or under the crossbar and into the net by foot or the hand / fist in certain circumstances for a goal, the latter being the equivalent of three points. This sport is framed by the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) and counts 32 teams in the country.
– Hurling, a game with prehistoric origins
This specific Irish sport is played on a pitch 145m long to 90m wide, with a stick, called a “hurley” and with a ball called a “sliotar”, it is a similar ball in size to a hockey ball. Two teams consisting of 15 players have the aim of scoring the maximum points. To this end, two means are possible, striking the ball with the hurley or under the crossbar and into the net for a goal, for three points for the latter. These goals are 6.5m wide and the crossbar is 2.5m above the ground. That’s the exact same goal and field dimension used in Gaelic Football. A player can run with the ball if he balances or bounces it on his hurley. He can’t take more than four steps with the ball in his hands and can’t play the ball from his hand to his hurley more than twice. To contest the ball the opposing team are allowed to make shoulder to shoulder contact and use their hurley to block shots.
– Gaelic Handball, a symbol of the Irish multicultural environment
The Gaelic handball rules are very simple. All you have to do is hit the ball against the front wall without it touching the ground and your opponent must return the ball after a maximum of one bounce on the ground. To this end, both left and right hands are utilized. Furthermore, it is played inside, in a cellar window. According to specialists, the first presages of this sport appeared in Galway in 1527, probably due to trading links with Spain, especially with the Basque regions where the similar game is played, under the title of “Pelota”. Thanks to the immigration and its Scottish roots, Gaelic Handball is still played in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Africa or even England. As for Gaelic Football, Irish people use only the word Handball to refer to this sport.
Today, the situation is of course appeased and every sport can cohabit. The best example is the mythical stadium: Croke Park. Built originally to welcome Gaelic Games, it is currently a place where people can support equally the rugby national team but also the football national team…
So, if you have the chance to spend a few days in Ireland, don’t hesitate to try these sports. Be sure to do so – it’s good for improving your language!
by William Troubat
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