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Golden Slam
 Post subject: Re: News, Articles & Interviews
PostPosted: 1. August 2020 11:52 
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|12. August 2020| 01:36
Tennis star Daniela Hantuchová on not taking translation too literally (part 1)
Lauren Pitts

Published 30 July 2020

If you took up tennis, what do you think you’d learn about? Daniela Hantuchová asked her parents for a tennis racket at 5 years old, because she wanted to go to the Olympics. From that young age, she learnt about discipline, commitment, willpower and how to use English to navigate the international world of sport. And of course how to play tennis.

Daniela’s career has taken her all over the world. She’s worked with coaches and players from many different countries and although they don’t have the same first language, they’re on the same page. Using English as a common language is a strong starting point, but it’s just as important to understand the cultures and personalities of the people you’re with.



When was it that you started to learn English?
I was 9 years old. Because here in school in Slovakia, the first language we normally learn is German. So Slovak is our native language and in schools it starts with German.

So were you learning English and German simultaneously in school?
Yes, well I started to speak German when I was 5 or 6. Because a lot of my parents’ friends are from Germany, plus we live very near to Austria so it’s really like our second language. And then later I was learning English as well.

This kind of leads into my next question – whether it’s standard for children in Slovakia to learn English growing up or whether there was also a specific reason that you felt you really wanted to learn English?
It is standard because we are such a small country. There are only 5.5 million of us talking in Slovak, so we’d better learn another language if we want to stand a chance in the world! Well back in my parents’ generation, the focus was more learning Russian and German, and English wasn’t really the priority. And then with my generation it changed big time, so I was lucky enough to be part of that.

Did you enjoy the experience of learning languages when you were at school?
Absolutely. Also because I started to travel so early in my life, I had no other choice. It was interesting to see how what we learnt at school was one thing, and then we came to the real world. I had to face the reality and I realised I needed to pick it up big time, because it was not really the stuff they would teach us at school. Especially going to tennis. I actually learnt the book about tennis in English, just to kind of start to understand the words about the technique and what I needed for my sport.

Excellent idea!
Is there something you remember struggling with, or an area of English you found particularly difficult?
Well, as I said our Slovak language is super difficult. I think everyone that knows the language, Slovak or Czech, knows that it’s crazy how tough it is. I think we are in the top 5 most difficult languages in the world.

Wow…
So on top of that having to learn German, I have to say learning English was a little bit easier. But it was more about just starting to understand the real English, not the one as I said that they teach you at school. So things like, I was coming to Florida and the kids my age would ask me ‘hey what’s up?’. Well… to me it was like ‘what is up?’. It was more the slang words which I never came across that I struggled with.

Somebody else I spoke to used that exact example, of when they went to America and wondered ‘why are they asking me what’s up? Nothing’s up, I’m fine!’
Really? Haha, I remember the other one is instead of asking ‘how are you?’ I got asked ‘you ok?’.

Yeah we do that don’t we! We’re just saying hello.
So in my language if you ask someone if you’re ok, it’s almost like asking ‘are you nuts?’. So it’s a shock to be asked that haha. I think that’s when it becomes fun, when you literally translate word by word.

When you were learning English, did you ever use English outside of your lessons? For example do your family speak any English, or at that age were you purely using it in a classroom setting?
Only the classroom, so that’s why it took me a while. So I started to learn when I was 9 and then when I went to Florida to start training there I was 13. So those 4 years I was basically just using it in the classroom. Because if we needed to speak another language it would be German.

When did you start playing tennis and why?
Well when I was 5 years old, it was 1988 and it was the Olympics in Seoul in Korea. And Miloslav Mečíř from here won the gold medal for Czechoslovakia in tennis. It was the first time I saw tennis on TV and I asked my parents right there if they could buy me a tennis racket so I could go to the Olympics one day as well.

That’s excellent ambition to start with. Not just so you can learn but ‘I need a tennis racket so I can go to the Olympics’!
So when I get asked when I decided to turn pro, well, when I was 5. There was no other way. That was the only reason I wanted to play.

So aside from playing the actual game, (as presumably that is what you enjoy about it!), what is it about tennis, and being on the international professional circuit, that you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed getting to learn different cultures while travelling. I definitely believe that makes us so rich as a person, to try to understand different mentalities in different countries. Also with my family we always try to go sightseeing and see different museums and the cultural parts of the city. So I felt like I was really lucky to be able to explore so much of the world at such a young age. I think that was the part I enjoyed the most. But also what tennis taught me as a person. How I had to go about my training and obviously the discipline and the will power and accepting different situations at a very young age, has helped me to grow up very quickly.

Do you think it’s important to encourage those kinds of attributes in children? Like motivation and determination?
Absolutely. I think that’s why it’s also important to encourage young kids to do sports. Because I don’t think any other platform can give you those benefits and those emotions and that understanding about yourself. I think that’s where sport, in anyone’s life, plays a huge role. Because you don’t have to be a professional or an Olympic winner to still be able to push yourself and go to your limits, wherever they are. And that’s when you learn how to be committed, how to be disciplined. And also your mind just becomes so much more fresh, you feel good about yourself and then you can study so much better. So even for someone that’s trying to achieve an amazing academic career, I think it’s still important to involve sport in some way. Just to have that aspect of life as well.

I’m definitely on board with that. When I was growing up I was doing some kind of sport every day!
When did speaking English become relevant to your tennis career?
When I was 13 and I went to Florida to train with Nick Bollettieri. Pretty much ever since then I only had English speaking coaches. So my language in my head on the tennis court became English actually very quickly. So even up to today, when I’m on the court I will still have to translate from English back to Slovak.

Really! Wow. So instead of translating it into your second or third language, you’re translating it back to your first language.
Yes!

When you’re on tour, you’re obviously with players and coaches and umpires from a multitude of countries. So the chances of you all having the same first language are very slim! How does communication on the international circuit work for all of you?
I think it’s very interesting and a very good question because you normally work with coaches from different countries. And even though you speak in English with most of them, what they say on the court can have a totally different meaning to how you would say it, or how a coach from another country would say it.

Let’s take a coach from Spain – if he says something in English, it might not be the same as what an English coach would say. Sometimes there can be a little bit of confusion and it takes a while to really understand your coach. I mean one thing is to understand the language, but another is to really understand what he means by that. And then I think it’s very very important for the coach-player relationship to work on that at the beginning. To really make sure everyone is on the same page as far as the meaning of the words. Because it can sometimes be a little bit confusing, especially before a big match. It’s just that cultural difference that can be sometimes tricky. So it’s important at the beginning to make sure they talk the same language, even though it’s English.

To make sure you understand each other, not just the language.
It’s actually funny cause sometimes my coaches used some words that I knew were wrong. But I didn’t correct them at the beginning and then one year later it’s way too late to tell them that’s not the word!

You just have to go with it at that point!
Yes, it can be funny sometimes.

It goes back to what you were saying about how you learn English doesn’t necessarily translate exactly. So you can see why people from different countries end up speaking differently.
So if you’re playing doubles, you might have a partner who’s from a different country and speaks a different language to you. I guess it’s similar to your relationship with your coaches, but how do you go about ensuring effective communication with them, on and off the court?
Yeah again it’s more about understanding the mentality of my partner. And being very careful what I say. Because for example for me, if I say something in an aggressive way, I don’t mean it as mean as it might sound. But it’s how my language is. Again we go to the same principles that you have to understand the country that your partner comes from. And then if you’re on the same level of communication then obviously it helps big time.

You’ve kind of answered this already, but you might have something else to say on it. I wanted to ask about whether you felt the way you learnt English was representative of how you now find yourself speaking it, either in conversation with native speakers, or when it’s a common language. Or whether you’ve picked up your own more conversational style as you’ve been exposed to it.
I think it’s a totally different world when you’re a player and then when you’re doing TV like I’m doing now. Because I think as the player, you get away with so much more. You can really say only a few words and you’re going to be fine. Because you do the job on the court and everyone knows that it’s not your first language. And even in the interviews with the media you can be excused because you’re an amazing player.

But once you get on the other side of things, that’s when you’d better pick it up, because talking is what represents you. And I feel I had to cut out a few words – I’m still working on it – from my professional tennis player career, because I just don’t feel like they belong to what I’m doing right now. So I think it’s very important to always go with your profession. And you know, if you get away with being a little bit, I would say lazy with the words, that’s fine. But then you have to understand once a job opportunity comes you need to pick it up.
Yeah I guess being in a post-match interview compared to you interviewing someone, what’s required of you is very different!


Having had a hugely successful career, Daniela has swapped her racket for a lapel mic. Look our for part 2 of our conversation next week, in which we went on to discuss how she’s adapting her language from the court to the commentary box.

Daniela Hantuchová is a retired Slovak tennis legend. She turned professional in 1999, and had a lucrative on-court career until her retirement in 2017. Throughout her career, Daniela won several WTA Titles including the Indian Wells Masters event in 2002. That same year, she also reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the US Open. Daniela is now making waves in the commentating space, currently working as a tennis commentator for Amazon and FOX. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and fitness. Daniela has travelled all over the world with her tennis career, and speaks fluent Slovak, Czech, English and German, as well as some Croatian and Italian.




Daniela Hantuchova is right about everything.


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Golden Slam
 Post subject: Re: News, Articles & Interviews
PostPosted: 7. August 2020 17:49 
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|12. August 2020| 01:36
Tennis star Daniela Hantuchová on the language of the court vs. the commentary box (part 2)
Lauren Pitts

Published 7 August 2020

Daniela Hantuchová moved from Slovakia to Florida at 13 years old, to begin her international tennis career. From that point on, she worked with coaches and players from all over the world and learnt how to use English as a common language when a mixture of first languages are involved.

We finished part one of our interview talking about how the role of language changes depending on your profession. Since retiring from playing, Daniela has taken on a different role in the tennis world. Instead of on the court, you’ll now see her in the commentary box. We went on to talk more about this change of scene and how it’s influenced Daniela’s experience of using English. And, how taking up a sport is an excellent starting point if you’re looking to learn a language.

When you were playing tennis, you must’ve been interviewed many times and put on the spot after matches. Has your background in learning English prepared you for these situations?
Well especially when you do the interviews right after the match it’s always tough. Because there are so many emotions involved and that’s when you really go to your native language. With the emotions and adrenaline, you are in your world. So I think that’s where most of the players have the biggest difficulties, trying to explain those emotions in English. And then once you cool down and you get to the media room, that’s when you put your working head on as a media person and try to be more focused. But on the court, you’re tired and there are so many things going through your mind. So it’s tough to put it in words in a language that’s not the first language for you.

I think I probably know the answer to this one – thinking of something you said earlier – but in a situation like that when you have to answer quickly in English, do you think of your answers in English? Or do you translate them into English in your head?
On the court it would be always in English. When I do TV now – I think the longer I’m at a tournament the more English I become! So I would say the first few days – maybe 2 days – I’m still translating a few things into English. And then it just becomes natural. Actually when I do interviews in Slovak these days, it’s more difficult for me and I’m actually sometimes literally translating from English to Slovak. Because for the last two years it’s all been in English. So it’s a little bit strange how sometimes that works!

So now you’ve retired (it sounds weird to say retired, obviously you retire at such a young age in sport!), you do commentary. So if you have to commentate a whole match in English, do you find that difficult, or does it now come quite naturally to you?
It is tiring. It’s not difficult, it’s just it takes a lot of effort for me. And as I said, it’s probably easier than doing it in Slovak because I’ve done it for the last two years. But what I did find difficult was that if I had an idea or thought that I wanted to say in between the points, in my head in Slovak I would have the time to say it. Because our language is very quick. But in English I thought I needed more time to explain things, so it was more about the timing. And when to pause and when to go for it. It was much more tiring say, 2 years ago, than it is now. Obviously if you’re working 16 hours a day not in your language it is going to be mentally draining! But that’s fine.

You’ve gone from tennis being very physically draining, to the other side being mentally exhausting!
Yeah that’s why I say sometimes this job is a little bit more difficult than actually playing the match.

You now have a podcast series where you interview people, so now you get to ask the questions. You’ve said ‘I believe the most inspiring people I’ve encountered in life share certain core values as humans, that have helped them get where they are, whether it was in sports or somewhere else. I want my listeners to get to know these people and understand these core values. As to me, the person we become while we’re doing something is more important than where we end up.’ What do you think those core values are? And how does having those values instilled in you help you get where you end up?
Definitely humbleness. It’s the one thing that puts all my guests in common. I find that the more success they have, the more normal they are. And that’s why I appreciate all of them so much, because I learnt so many things because they’re such inspiring people. Discipline is another key word. From whatever profession they come, whether actor, athlete, singer, the successful ones have the discipline and acceptance. Acceptance to make mistakes, to want to learn to improve, to accept that we are not perfect. So humbleness, discipline and acceptance. Those are the three ingredients so far from everyone that I’ve interviewed.

Is that something that education can play a part in? Helping people grow up with those kinds of values?
Absolutely. As I said, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are. To me, those are the attributes that have helped me so much. I think it also comes from understanding that we are all the same at the end of the day. And no matter what we do, as long as we do it with these values, then I think we’re going to be successful inside of us. And I think that’s the biggest value we can have for ourselves.

A strong message to instil in everybody really. So to speak publicly, you obviously have to be confident in communication and presenting yourself. Do you think your English skills have been an integral part of how your media career is growing?
Well I have to say I’ve been very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been getting from English speaking TV, because obviously I come from Slovakia. So it’s been great for these opportunities and that’s why I try to work on myself. I took a few TV coaching classes as well. Just to make sure I fulfilled my commitment from my side and that I meet the expectations for whoever hires me.

I didn’t know they have TV coaching classes – that sounds very interesting!
Me neither! I actually only took two of them and they said that I’m fine haha. Just go out there and do it.

You’ve obviously travelled a lot for your career from a young age. Do you have friends or contacts in other countries that you still keep in touch with?
Absolutely I do and I’ve been so blessed to have met so many amazing people while I was on the tour. It’s actually a lot of coaches. Not only mine, but the ones I’ve been on the tour with for 20 years. Obviously I keep in touch with my doubles partner Ai Sugiyama in Japan. We became really, really close friends for the last 20 years. And there are so many different people – I don’t want to name one and forget the other ones! But it’s something also I look forward to when I come to the tournaments for the TV. Even though we don’t have so much time, I at least try to catch up for a coffee, or just to say hi to each other.

When you’re not in the same country and you can’t meet up physically for a coffee, how do you tend to communicate with them? Is it on the phone, do you send letters, is it an email situation? Because there are so many different ways to communicate across countries nowadays.
Lately I have to say Zoom’s been great. I’m more of a talk to person. And I used to write letters. I’m still old fashioned in that. I still do now, but not as much any more. I think I should start doing that as well. But at the end of the day after every tournament, I had to send postcards to my grandmother and to everyone else and I just love writing in general. It’s actually one of my hobbies. I can sit at the table and write for hours. So there have been definitely a lot of letters in the past and now that I think about it, I should start again.

It’s thoughtful, isn’t it?
I think it’s more personal.

Do you like to travel recreationally, as well as for work? Or because you’ve travelled so much for work you just want to stay where you are!
Yeah pretty much! Especially lately I feel like I’ve done my fair share of travelling. And especially with everything that’s happening at the moment I’m happy to be home. But I do like to take my car for whatever is close by. So we go to Prague quite a bit because it’s a very short drive, and to Vienna as well. We’re very lucky that we’re in central Europe, so it’s a car drive pretty much everywhere. As long as it’s about a two hour flight, so whether it’s Italy or Spain, I’m ok with it. The longer ones I’m starting to struggle with! I would say London is my limit!
I used to live in Australia and nothing is two hours away. You drive for two hours and you’re still in a sugar cane field!

Do you have a favourite place to visit, or that you have visited?
Cape Town is one of my favourites. I used to do pre-seasons there for I think 6 years. That’s in fact when I had an English coach, Nigel Sears, and I fell in love with the place. I definitely want to go back there (even though it’s a longer flight!). And then obviously my passion for Italy has been always there. I think it always will be. Anywhere in Italy, whether it’s Tuscany skiing, the islands on the boat, in Rome. If I didn’t live here in Slovakia it would be Italy for sure.

Excellent food in Italy too! Have you learnt (obviously you’ve mentioned German), or would you like to learn, any more languages? If so, how do you think you’d go about learning?
I definitely want to pick up my Italian at some point again. Because I do understand quite a lot, but to speak I’m terribly shy – I don’t know why! So I definitely want the chance to work on that, but I have no idea when! As I’ve been really busy the last couple of months. But the way I would go about it, the way I function, is I would definitely need to go either to a classroom or have a teacher waiting for me. And to do it in person. And it would have to be a very specific discipline – like a schedule I need to commit to. Because otherwise if I just do it in an easy style, I’m never going to get there!

Would you encourage budding young sports players to focus on their language skills alongside their sports training, because of the potential international opportunities?
Definitely, especially these days, when their social media is such a huge part of their career. So that’s where I would encourage them to understand that it’s part of their job, it’s part of their responsibility to present their own brand the best way they can. They can gain a lot of fans thanks to that. If they are able express those emotions on the court, and people in the crowds can understand them, obviously they will relate to them much more. So absolutely yes.

So kind of on the flip side of that, would you say that playing a sport is a good way to help develop language skills? If you’ve moved to another country and you need to pick up the language?
Oh absolutely. I think it’s such a great, safe area to start from. When I was in Italy I didn’t speak the language, but I was in a tennis club where I was training, and suddenly the sport becomes the language to start with. So you feel safe. Because ok you don’t understand anything, but at least you can hit forehands and backhands with someone else on the other side of the court without having to understand him/her. And then slowly you start to be more brave, and slowly you start to feel comfortable. Whether it’s tennis, golf, even running. Sport is such a universal language, that it’s a great way to start if you are in a country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know the language. At least with sport you know you don’t really need to talk that much!

It’s a good way to meet some people as well and integrate yourself in a culture.
Especially if you want to be active, you want to go to a sports club.
Yeah I only recently moved to Cambridge and the first thing I did was join a rowing club!

Final question – could you give a word of advice, or something that particularly resonates with you, in Slovak? (But then tell me what it means!)
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That means to be honest to yourself.

Perfect!
Thank you for talking us through your career and experience Daniela. I look forward to seeing some of your interviews!




Daniela Hantuchova is right about everything.


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