"The goal is to learn Arabic!" Krylia Sovetov’s interpreter knows dozens of languages and isn’t planning on stopping

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Welcome to the next part of ‘League of Pros’ - stories of people who work in Russian football and make it better.

The third character is Krylia Sovetov Samara interpreter Aleksey Vezerov, who is fluent in 12 languages and knows 10-15 more. He has been working since the autumn of 2000, although before joining the club he was not interested in football at all.

"My ancestors came to the Volga region from Germany"

"My great-grandfather knew four foreign languages and had four higher education degrees. I remember for sure that he received an economic education at St. Petersburg University and he also graduated from University of Maritime shipping. He was a naval officer. His family was quite rich, and at that time people travelled freely: my great-grandfather, for example, went to China and Europe. His native language was German, and he also knew French, Italian and English, which was necessary in Europe.

Under Catherine II, the Germans were given land in the Volga region and were exempt from taxes for 99 years. In the end, a large number of people came from Germany to Russia and developed the Volga region. So my ancestors came to our country: my great-grandfather's family lived in Samara before the revolution. Once I tried to make inquiries about relatives in Germany through Samara's archives, but there was either nothing there, or they didn’t give an answer.

My mother is a linguist and even taught Russian in Poland, while my uncle Nikolai Murzin was engaged in linguistics and what is now called neuro-linguistic programming. My grandmother also studied at a specialist school in Samara, where it was mandatory to study French, German, Greek and Latin. My son was also interested in languages: he studied Portuguese - since there were Brazilians at Krylia - English, Spanish, and even dabbled with Turkish, but I can't say how it turned out. He worked at the club for a while, but now he has other interests.

"With each scholarship, I bought a couple of books in different languages"

When I was very young, my family lived in Luhansk, and they already spoke to me in German. I studied up to year nine in Ukraine then finished school in Samara. I had to complete a year in Russia to go to university here. In Luhansk, we had a lot of Poles, Bulgarians, Spaniards, and I wanted to learn something from everyone to speak their language. They helped me improve while my parents and friends brought different books.

When I was already studying in Samara, there was a good Druzhba store in the city on Kuybyshev square. Books in Czech, Polish, German, and even Latin were sold there at very low prices! I only bought fiction – a couple of books from each scholarship. In Moscow there was also a bookshop, I think, on Kachalova street [now Malaya Nikitskaya street - Premierliga.ru] not far from the Spanish Embassy, and everyone who studied foreign languages went there. I bought dictionaries published in France. They were valuable, good quality, but expensive; about 20-25 rubles in those days. However, the price was not a shame because I really wanted to use high-quality material.

In Ukraine, we could watch Polish television, listen to Polish radio, which worked well: at that time there were interesting programs about politics, literature, and art. When I started studying at Samara University, I was advised to listen to BBC radio in English. As my teacher Mikhail Bondarenko said: "Tune in and listen 25 hours a day, you will hear good, high-quality English." At first I just listened as this speech was stored in the subconscious, and after a while, my language level began to improve.

I also had small cards where I wrote down short phrases. My teachers advised me that one word should be new in each of them. I always carried these with me: on one side there were five or seven phrases and on the back their translations. If you forget, you peek, and when you learn, you start making the next card, but periodically you go back to the old ones.

I'm still doing it. I read a book, and if I like something, I write it down and put it away. Another good way is to copy from a book word for word, so you train your handwriting. This method was recommended by the former head of the department at the university. She told me that she rewrote half of Charles Dickens's Bleak House before she learned to write in English.

When I moved into higher education, I was choosing between the pedagogical institute where my mother worked and the university. The former had an interesting History and English department, but the head of the department told me: "Go to the university, you have nothing to do in the institute. There you’ll get a much higher education." The university degree could give me more opportunities, and it was really the best choice for my specialty. There were two departments of the faculty of Philology: English and German. I was more interested in English. I had learned it at school and considered it more promising because of its prevalence.

"There was a choice: either teach in the village, or join the army"

After university, I immediately wanted to become an interpreter and was ready to work in any field. When the graduates were distributed, one teacher joked: "Some will even go abroad." Everyone was happy, and then he added: “Of Samara region.” I had a choice: either work as a teacher in a village, roughly speaking, for 28 years, or serve in the army for a year and a half and then go where I wanted. As a result, I joined the army and was in Ethiopia, where my official title was ‘teacher of Russian at the military and political academy.”

After the military service, I was invited to the chamber of commerce and industry. We worked with all major enterprises in Samara and the region: cable, aviation, rocket and construction plants, organisations involved in electronics, petrochemicals, and agriculture. These companies ordered interpreters, and I worked with them under a contract from the chamber, interpreting from Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, and Czech. It was difficult at first, but with each subsequent job in a particular field it became much easier.

From the chamber, I was invited to the center for economic and legal advice. Then we started creating joint ventures with different countries, and I was called to interpret from Italian. We mainly worked in Samara with Italians. After some time, the cooperative stalled, and the director left for Moscow.

I also worked at the Samara Young Spectator Theatre, where I directed Hamlet alongside an English director. The production was very unique, with parallels to the period of Stalin's rule: Lenin's mausoleum was supposed to be represented by an ice block, while the actors wore contemporary clothing. We worked with the actors to create a Russian script from several translations, bringing it into full compliance with what Shakespeare himself wrote. The director knew Hamlet well from memory. I ran the Russian text by him, and he told me where and what was wrong. It was a crazy few months’ work, but interesting nonetheless. The result was very satisfying. The play was performed in the theatre for several years.

I worked independently on old connections: for example, I made translations while sitting at home on the computer, or translated for businesses. Then I was invited to the Administration of the Samara Region in the construction department: at that time, they were starting to build an oncology centre together with French-speaking Canadians. I also worked with the “CIS Assistance" organisation [a European Union program - Premierliga.ru]. Foreign specialists came to Samara, and we traveled together in Russia and Ukraine. There were mostly Germans, Dutch, Italians, English and Poles in the group, so I had to use all the familiar languages. I was also asked to work for an Italian firm, when they built a steaming station in Novokuibyshevsk, but after the crash the construction collapsed.

"They send books about football, but they are more interested in the language itself"

When I went to Krylia Sovetov - they needed a Portuguese interpreter - I was involved in individual tasks. As a freelance interpreter you could earn very good money at that time, but it depended on how you work. If you did more, you would get more, which is a plus. It was also possible to choose whether you want to take on jobs or not. The main disadvantage was stagnation when opportunities dried up. But I could take a holiday or day off when I felt like it.

Sometimes it was necessary to make a notarized translation, and to do this, you either had to come with a degree and other documents every time, or register once and then just sign the document in the presence of a lawyer. Through one of them – it was the first notary office in Samara – Krylia found me.

At first I didn't understand anything about football at all and asked someone from the team to explain everything to me. The head coach was Alexander Tarkhanov, and he sent me to his assistant Alexander Tsygankov. We still maintain a good friendly relationship. He spent a long time on all possible topics and explained everything very well. He used pictures, cards, and sticks to express himself. Then in the process of working I learned new things myself, plus I asked foreign players. They explained the game to me, and I took terminology from them, because the same thing is called differently in different countries.

When there were more Brazilians at Krylia, German Tkachenko [Club president from 1999 to 2005, and on the Board of Directors in 2008 - Premierliga.ru] suggested to me: "So that you can calculate your working hours, let's move you to a permanent position." I agreed and stayed at the club, although I sometimes worked part-time because there were difficulties with money at Krylia. In this line of work I am generally attracted not by football itself, but by the large circle of communication with different people with different psychology and languages. I haven't found anything better yet, and I'm not really looking for it.

It didn't take long to understand the rules of football. We had a physical training coach, Angelo Alves [he worked at Krylia from 2008 to 2010 - Premierliga.ru], and he sometimes sent me books about football in English, Spanish and Portuguese. They covered physical training, tactics, theory, how Pep Guardiola conducts training, and how José Mourinho psychologically and physically prepares players. I am more interested in these books from the point of view of language, rather than football, although I also learn a lot of interesting things about the game.

Sometimes I ask the players: "Bring me such-and-such a textbook, and I'll pay you." Of course, I offer money, but none took any even though it is generally expensive. One of our players brought me a textbook on the Dutch language, while Rais Mboli gave me a Koran in French. Our defender Mehdi Zeffane, by the way, plays with him for the Algerian national team, and from time to time Mboli and I send greetings to each other through him.

"The players were furious with Branco, and he defended himself: he was translated incorrectly"

I don't have a specific work schedule. Training is a small part of my job, and it takes more time to translate documents. If a player is being treated abroad, they send documents from there that need to be translated into Russian. Sometimes, a player is being examined in Russia, and you need to send a certificate to the doctors of his new team. I also deal with documents from national teams. This can be a doctor's report, what condition the player was in and what was done with him, or a message from the physical training coach about what training the player had.

The busiest period was when Frank Vercauteren and his staff came to Krylia, because they also took over the reserve team. I had to work almost without rest - I got about one day off a month - I had to be with both the main squad and the reserves. A lot of translation was required: the Belgian staff wrote recommendations and made presentations in English and Flemish. The work was hard but interesting.

At that time, the club wanted to hire another interpreter, because I had a very heavy workload. It was necessary to be in several places at once because all the coaches were foreigners: one worked with the forwards, another with the defenders, the third with the goalkeepers. In the end, they took one person who worked for two or three weeks, before turning round and saying: "Well, you can deal with your work." I was alone again, but I managed as before.

Of course, I must be present for all sessions, plus during personal conversations with the players. If the coach can't communicate with the player in the same language or the accuracy of the translation is important, they invite me. Sometimes a person will say something, and I will interpret, but the speaker’s reaction is not the one that was expected, and I am blamed for the wrong translation. I began a new modus operandi: I ask people to send a text by email, which I translate and return to them. If someone is not happy with my translation, they can let another person read it.

At Krylia there was such a case, for example, with Serge Branco. After his transfer, he went to the CEO and asked: "Who am I playing with? Where are the players?” This reached the guys, who turned on him with words like: "Who are you to think we’re nobodies?” Branco sensed them baying for blood, and defended himself: "I didn't mean it, I was misquoted." When there is a normal conversation, it is difficult to interpret the wrong way: either you have to do it intentionally, or you do not understand the language. There are difficulties with legal and medical documents. With those you can assume that I have misunderstood something.

The Nigerian Duke Udi also behaved strangely. For example, there was one situation in the locker room at the stadium when I was interpreting for a player on one side. Udi was sitting on the other side, and there were water bottles in the middle. He called to me, "Come here." I went over and Duke said: “Bring water.” I answered him: "What on earth are you doing?” He got up and took it himself. Another time Udi came to training without boots. They asked him: "How could you come without them?” He complained to us: "Why didn't you take my boots?” Someone took a taxi to the training ground or hotel where Udi had left them.

When I interpret for coaches, they do not ask me to speak with the same emotions or repeat their gestures, but in general it is preferable. I got used to this when I was involved in dubbing films for cinemas: there you need to transmit emotions and at least partially imitate the voice, so that people understand who is talking about what. My father, by the way, was an actor and director of the national theatre, and he taught certain techniques.

I once worked in an aircraft factory with a man from Italy, and people in this country use a lot of gestures. There is a joke: if an Italian's hands are tied, he will not be able to speak. I was interpreting something related to computers, and this Italian guy was making grand gestures. During a break he told me: "You're interpreting it wrong." I asked: "Why? You don't understand Russian." The Italian explained: "I make this gesture, but you don't, you just say it." I said, "All right, I'll gesture too."

"I will not get involved in coaching matters, no matter how many tasks I see"

I remember when there were a lot of Brazilians at Krylia, the whole team cursed in Brazilian Portuguese. Then a few players from the former Yugoslavia showed up, and they were swearing in Serbian. Players learn these words without us, I just explain that this vocabulary is used in such and such area. Once Tarkhanov spoke Russian to one of the Brazilians: “Be calm.” The player was put out. I explained to him what the coach had meant, and he replied: "I thought he was saying something bad to me, I didn't understand how."

Periodically, I have to soften translations, although none of the coaches in my presence ever communicated with the players using swear words. Sometimes the coach would get angry if he saw a player do something wrong, but it's just emotions. And the players - the same Branco, some Brazilians - could swear in response to the comments. I explained either to the player himself or to his fellow countrymen that this behavior is unacceptable.

The number of languages I can use per session depends on how many foreigners are on the pitch and how many languages they know. For example, now when the coach addresses the entire team, I translate to English, and when there were Brazilians, I used Spanish or Portuguese. If someone misunderstands, I then explain in their native language. 

The only difficult moment was at the match between the Russian national team and the RPL foreigners’ team in 2003. There I interpreted into three languages at once, but asked for the coaches [the team was coached by Alexander Tarkhanov and Viktor Prokopenko - Premierliga.ru] to stop to have time to interpret their words. It can get confusing with difficult languages, because they are all different. You just switch from one file to another, just like you switch from one file to the next on a computer.

I watch matches on the bench with the coaches, but I feel more like an ardent fan of the team. I will never get involved in coaching matters, no matter how many tasks I have seen, no matter how many theories I know. There is a good American saying: everyone should carry their own suitcase, but to do this, they need to be given their own suitcase. I have one, and I carry it.

"Most players are interested in English"

I treat all players very well, but I just communicate with some closer than others: for example, with Eduardo Lobos, Leilton, and Catanha. Lobos also spoke good Russian, but Leandro Samaroni spoke the best of all the Brazilians. To be honest, I was surprised at the level he had reached. But his interest is understandable: if a normal person is in a foreign country and does not want to be tied to an interpreter, he needs to know the local language, this is natural.

In 2008, Krylia had players from North and South Korea at the same time: Choe Myong-ho and Oh Beom-Seok. They had their own interpreters, and I only communicated with them; I didn't work with the players themselves. Firstly, I did not know Korean, and secondly, the North Korean had to go everywhere with a personal interpreter, and why he was brought for the South Korean, I do not know - the player already spoke good English.

South Koreans were freer people, and North Korea had a strong Communist dictatorship, so they all had to be watched. The interpreter had to give the player some kind of political information every day, and he received money for it - I don't know how much. From Tkachenko's side, it was more of a political move to reconcile North and South Korea on the field.

Moreover, the players themselves could not communicate with each other. Obviously, these are some North Korean tenets. They even sat in different parts of the dining room. When Choe scored a goal for the reserves, he was immediately called to the North Korean Embassy in Moscow and given official party membership. He played together with the South Korean once for the senior side [on 2 May 2008 in a 2-0 win over Amkar Perm; Oh Beom-Seok played the entire 90 minutes, and Choe Myong-ho came off the bench in added time - Premierliga.ru] and after a while disappeared. They called him back, but he never returned.

Most of Krylia’s Russian-speaking players are interested in the English language. Some ask to translate instructions of some techniques, letters that are sent to them, or ask for help when they write to someone themselves. Mostly they ask for advice on translation or individual words. Zhenya Bashkirov spoke English at a surprisingly good level for a football player; he had a desire to learn the language. Evgeniy Konyukhov also liked Italian. I think it was just when the goalkeeping coach Petrelli appeared. He was interested in grammar and ways to expand his vocabulary.

Of those who used to play or work at Krylia, I communicate most with Angelo. We don't have any common interests, just friendly communication. He tried several times to come back to Krylia, but I could only pass on his request to the management, and they had already made a decision. Angelo liked it very much in Russia. Now he works with one of the Brazilian national youth teams.

I myself am interested in going to Brazil, I have never been to Latin America at all. The time isn’t quite right now, and it is not a cheap pleasure. It is interesting to see where our most famous Brazilians came from such as Leilton and Souza. They used to bring books from Brazil by Jorge Amado. He is a well-known writer in Russia, but I want to read him in original versions.

"It is better to devote 5-10 minutes to the language every day"

In November, I will turn 60 years old, and in the near future my goal is to learn at least the bare minimum of Arabic. Now it is at the most elementary level. I have had a good textbook for a long time, which was brought from Spain, but I still haven’t had it in my hands, and now I have a sporting interest. Now, when communicating with our Iraqi, Safaa al-Furaiji, I use some Arabic words and short phrases, and he laughs and is happy, although we mostly speak English.

One of the main tips for those who learn foreign languages is motivation. You need to know what it's for. When you have that, it becomes interesting and easier. In addition to the desire itself, you need to constantly keep learning. You need to get into the language and understand how to think in it. For example, I have to hear and see it at the same time, so I make myself small cards and listen to something all the time. Even if it is a new language and I don't understand most of it, I get into it and gradually type words and grammar. The more practice, the better.

Consistency is also important. You can't practise for two or three hours once a week and forget it until next week; that’s complete nonsense. It is better to devote 5-10 minutes to the language every day. It helped that while other people were wasting most of their free time, I was listening or reading in some language. It's like a bicycle: while you're pedaling, you're moving forward, and when you stop, your inertia keeps you going, but then you fall."

Photos by Krylya Sovetov


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