For professional athletes, the benefits of learning a second (or a third) language are numerous. On the one hand, there are cognitive skills transferrable to the world of sports that can be developed through language learning including enhanced multitasking abilities, improved memory, perseverance, greater confidence and better decision making skills.

However, it is the social benefits of having a second language that I want to talk about here, primarily the ability to build rapport with different groups of people. After last week’s Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monza, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, illustrated this to a tee. While both speakers already speak English as a second language, it was their attempts at Italian that were most appreciated.


On the podium, perched above a vocal parochial crowd of Italian Ferrari fans, Rosberg and Vettel, both German native speakers were able to, and made the decision to, address the crowd in their own language.

For Ferrari driving Vettel, working the audience was an easier prospect considering the mosh pit was full of diehard supporters of Ferrari – an Italian institution.

But it was Rosberg’s efforts that the crowd really responded to.

While being booed and jeered during his post-match podium interview, Rosberg codeswitched from English into Italian. In doing so, he was able to get a crowd that was quite hostile to the Mercedes driver on his side.

It was a small gesture, but what mattered was it was delivered in Italian. He complimented the crowd on their incredible support, and was even able to whip them into a frenzy with a rendition of the White Stripes Seven Nation Army, a song that has become an anthem for Italian football fans.

This example is a good illustration of why learning a second (or a third) language is relevant to professional athletes; it can be a useful fan engagement tool! For one, you can widen your fan base, drawing in different groups of people – in some cases even groups that do not support you (as was the case here).

Also, there will be people listening, who may not understand the second language you are speaking, but will appreciate your ability to speak it. People, particularly English speakers, are generally in awe of those who possess the ability to converse in several languages.

All in all, a second language can help you build rapport. Even an attempt at some of the pleasantries of a language is appreciated, and can allow you to make an interpersonal connection with your fans.

So, if you’re a professional athlete and you want to get started on learning a language, which language should you learn? If you are like Rosberg, your upbringing, friends or living circumstances may have already dictated your choice and facilitated your learning. However, if you’re not in this position, there are other factors that may influence your decision.

For example, if you are about to sign a contract in a foreign country, then it would be worth getting stuck into learning your new host country’s language. Or, if you know you have a particularly large fan group from a specific country then learning some phrases to engage with them will be appreciated. Alternatively, it may simply come down to choosing a language you like the sound of or are interested in.

Whatever your decision, the benefits of learning a second language are worth the investment for professional athletes. Put some strategic thought into which language you want to learn and start engaging.