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Tampa Bay Rowdies learn to hurdle language barrier

Rowdies midfielder Long Tan, front, speaks the least English on the team, which has not found a Chinese translator.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Rowdies midfielder Long Tan, front, speaks the least English on the team, which has not found a Chinese translator.

TAMPA — When Takuya Yamada doesn't understand, a camera can often provide the answer.

Yamada, a midfielder for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, speaks limited English in a work environment where English is the only language spoken.

The 35-year-old was born in Tokyo and has spent most of his life in Japan. His resume is impressive but based solely in the Land of the Rising Sun: 13 seasons in the J-League, the top division of Japanese professional soccer; team captain for four seasons; four appearances with the national team.

When Yamada signed with the Rowdies in early 2010, his first pro contract outside Japan, the only English he knew came from a couple of classes he took in junior high school.

So, Yamada's first purchase was a Rosetta Stone English language computer program.

And he picked up a camera.

During team meetings, as Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish furiously diagrams schemes and ideas on the dry-erase board, Yamada pulls out his camera and begins clicking away.

"If Paul writes a word on the board and I can't understand, I take a picture," Yamada said, bringing his thumbs and index fingers close to his face and pressing the button on an imaginary camera. "After, I check at home, on Rosetta Stone."

Before games, as Dalglish rehashes final instructions, Yamada uses an electronic translator to check the words he's unable to comprehend.

So far, Dalglish's message hasn't been lost in translation. Yamada has been a fixture in the lineup, starting all 13 league matches.

"He's becoming a leader," Dalglish said. "And starting to communicate as well."

Yamada is one of a handful of Rowdies with little to no English skills. Defender Yendry Diaz, who defected from Cuba in 2008, has the benefit of a Spanish translator.

No such luck for the Chinese-born Long Tan, the least proficient English speaker on the team.

Rowdies public relations director Megan Danner hoped to find a Chinese translator for Tan, possibly a USF student looking to earn extra money, but was unable.

Tan, a midfielder who has started every league match, relies on teammates, who draw pictures with X's and O's to diagram where Tan should be positioned.

"It's repetition, basically," Rowdies midfielder Kwame "J.J." Adjeman-Pamboe said. "You keep telling him and showing him over and over and he'll get the idea."

If things are still unclear, Dalglish will stop practice and demonstrate.

And if that doesn't work?

"His mom speaks perfect English, so if there's ever a big, big problem, I can speak to her," Dalglish said, joking.

Adjeman-Pamboe can understand Tan's situation. Before signing with the Rowdies, the London-born Adjeman-Pamboe played for Finnish First Division side FC Viikingit.

"The coach would talk, and somebody would translate it to me," said Adjeman-Pamboe, who speaks Twi (a Ghanaian language) and English, but no Finnish. "But (the coach) wouldn't give me too many instructions. Just 'get the ball, J.J.' That was about it. He kept it simple."

On the field, though, the language barrier that permeates soccer locker rooms ceases to exist.

"Soccer is a funny game. When you're on the field, regardless of what language you speak, you're all speaking the same language," said Stanley Nyazamba, a native Zimbabwean. "The basics of soccer, regardless of your background, are the same. … Even if you put 11 people on the field who speak 11 different languages, I guarantee you they'll be able to play."

Tonight

Rowdies vs. Miami

When/where: 7; Steinbrenner Field, Tampa

TV/radio: BHSN; 1010-AM

Tampa Bay Rowdies learn to hurdle language barrier 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 9:32pm]
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