12 August 2014
All Chinese to me: Preparing for players whose names you can't read
This summer brought me a terrific opportunity, as I was asked to call games at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup for ESPN
That meant learning how to pronounce a ton of names, many of them in languages unfamiliar to me. We've already covered some of my French background with this #HumbleBrag post, but the Asian teams … that's another story. Is pronouncing the transliterated versions of Chinese and Korean phonetically really the best way? With the US drawn against China in the group stage, I had to find a solution.
Thankfully, my family came to the rescue again. My older brother happens to have married a Chinese-American woman and has learned plenty of Chinese himself. So I spent a good 30 minutes on Skype listening to him make sounds I never thought he could. (He actually looked online for a roster in Chinese characters to make sure he was giving me good advice, but he never could find one.)
After repeating his pronunciation of player after player, I then wrote them out phonetically for myself (Lyu Siqi became lyew suh-chee, for example) and began practicing. When watching China's first two games, I said the names out loud as players passed the ball around, constantly reminding myself to use only the family name (the first name listed) on second reference. So if I wanted to use what we think of as Lyu Siqi's "last" name, I would say, 'lyew.'
Between the first and second group games, I got my sister-in-law on the phone for a test run, and she only corrected one of my 22 pronunciations, so I felt ready to go for the US-China game on Tuesday.
When preparing my scoresheet, instead of writing out the players' names as listed by FIFA (LYU Siqi) or what appeared on their jerseys (LYU S Q), I went with a combination of accuracy and phonetics. Since I had most of the last names down and wanted those to be used more often, I wrote the last names in all caps in their proper spelling (LYU). Then I wrote a small-caps, phonetic version of their individual names (SUH CHEE). So if I had forgotten No. 5's name, I would look down and quickly get LYU; suh-chee might only be used if I had time to get into any of the (minimal) background information I had come up with.
I went over the names with my partner, former World Cup- and U-20 World Cup-winning coach Tony DiCicco, who has been great to work with for all the US games. Plenty familiar with Chinese national teams from facing them over the years, he also focused on getting the last names correct. Since there were only a few duplicates in the lineup, that mostly sufficed.
The broadcast went off without a hitch, at least from a Chinese names perspective, and the time we put into our preparation was well worth it. How else could we quickly be able to correctly identify and pronounce TAN and TANG, LYU and LIU, LI and LEI, ZHONG and ZHANG? For that I am very, very grateful to my brother and my sister-in-law.
Now for Saturday ... anybody know Korean?