Of course football fans from around the world cheer in their native tongues, but increasingly the international mixing pot that is the World Cup has crowds chanting in combinations of foreign languages! Whether fans show off bilingual skills or singing ability, the most epic examples are worth a listen.
Sports chants of the kind heard around the World Cup stadium are vestiges of the oral tradition: some have profound cultural meaning, and some are utter nonsense. Popular chants come out of national history as well as popular culture. While fans are likely to sing pieces of their country’s heritage in the mother tongue, international influences (olé!), fads (think Lady Gaga), and the forces of globalization (think Lady Gaga again) have fans chanting in other languages.
Sometimes fans can use the music to navigate the foreign language and sometimes they have a little trouble – but either way, game-goers hold the tune and raise the sporting spirit. Check out the World Cup’s most memorable examples of wrong-language chanting.
Japanese Soccer Fans: “Nippon Olé”
Heard at the 2012 London Olympics, this chant combines the word for “Japan” in Japanese with the Spanish word “olé,” which now appears in sports chants worldwide. While the chant is very short, these fans still manage to demonstrate some language skills by nailing the Spanish inflection on “olé,” which is not so easy to do.
The simple phrase “Nippon Olé” packs of punch in large part because of the controversial origins of the word, “olé.” Most believe “olé” entered popular use when much of Spain was ruled by Arabic peoples, and derives from the Arabic “w-allah,” meaning “by God.” Olé came to mean something similar to “Bravo,” adopted by bullfighters, and then soccer fans, as a chant.
The multi-layered history means that when Japanese football fans coined this popular cheer, they combined the Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish heritage in just two words!
Belgian Fans At Royal Antwerp Versus Lierse: “Shall We Sing A Song For You?”
These days, English is the world’s lingua franca, and many phrases from the language crop up in unlikely places, as when these Belgian fans bursted out singing about singing. But in this case it’s easy to imagine what incited the incident when Europe and the UK host soccer leagues in which many teams, fans, and cultures mingle. Fans likely picked up this chant from supporters of an English team such as Arsenal or Spurs.
These supporters have done very well with their pronunciation in this example, especially with the English “a” and “o” sounds. Non-native speakers sometimes struggle with these counter-intuitive letters, which basically make “ah” and “oh” respectively.
Spanish Soccer Fans Sing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”
Singing your favorite songs in another tongue is a great way to improve skills in a new language, enabling you to learn through the familiarity of music. Even if you don’t understand everything, you can engage.
Fortunately, these Spanish fans singing a song by pop legend Lady Gaga make up what they lack in English pronunciation and lyrical-knowledge with enthusiasm and singing ability. “You and me could write a bad romance” does not really stand a chance, but “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oooh!” comes out strong.
“Oooh!” is by far the more relevant message when sporting events are about skill, teamwork, and determination—less so romance and heartbreak. Whatever the English-speaking abilities of the fans, the team received their enthusiastic support.
Wales Supporters During A Rugby Match Against England: “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (The Land of My Fathers)”
The Welsh are reputed to be fine singers, and here the nation does not disappoint. Although Welsh is one of the official languages of Wales (a part of the United Kingdom, not to be confused with England) only around 19% of the population speaks the language, according to bbc.co.uk.
Nonetheless, every Welshman knows the national anthem, written in the Welsh language, and can sing it when called upon at gatherings and sporting events. Here, during a game of rugby, one of Wales’ favorite sports, the fans sing loudly and flawlessly, despite the fact that many of them do not speak Welsh outside the stadium.
This rendition of the Welsh anthem underscores how singing, language, and culture enjoy a deep connection. Though many football chants are pretty simple, examples like these connect different groups and nations through common passion for two great activities: singing and sport.
Find yourself singing a catchy foreign tune? If the international spirit of the World Cup has you inspired to dive into other cultures and learn new language, check out the offerings from Language Trainers.