Language Learning: Diverse Languages in the NHL and Other Workplaces

The NHL is in its final games of the season and 4 teams are fighting it out for the coveted Stanley Cup. While the teams who play in the National Hockey League are in North America, 19 countries are currently represented by players in the league. With so much diversity coming into one league, the ice rink is home to many diverse languages.

One player, Yakov Trenin, came to North America when he was only 17 from Russia. He prepared by taking English classes in the hopes of being able to communicate with his new teammates. Little did he know, he’d end up in Quebec, where French was the primary language spoken. Many of his teammates had a difficult time communicating with him and he had a hard time understanding coaches and staff. Since most of Trenin’s teammates knew a little bit of English, they all did their best to speak in the common language and play as a team.

Often, players who don’t speak the common language are paired up with another player who speaks it well. They develop a way to best communicate using this buddy system. Teams will also hire interpreters to assist with relaying essential information to players in their native language. Other times, there are players on the same team who speak the same native language and they will group up to communicate more effectively during the game.

Most US teams use English as the primary language for players to speak. While on the ice, most players can figure out how to get their point across, even if their English isn’t their strongest language. However, in the heat of the game, some players have a hard time not reverting back to their native language. If you listen closely, you’ll hear languages like Russian, French, Czech, Swedish, Finnish, German, and others spoken while playing and reacting to the game.

The National Hockey League is not the only workplace that sees diverse languages. According to a 2023 Slator report, the United States as a whole continues to see an increase in non-English speaking households. According to Slator “a comparison of the 2021 and 2022 census data releases shows an increase across the board in the number of households where languages other than English are spoken”.

Language diversity also helps team performance, both during a hockey game or in an office setting. Diverse teams tend to be more in tune with different cultures or perspectives. They use their own cultural knowledge to help solve problems and can spark creative solutions. Multi-language teams can communicate better with clients from different countries or who speak different languages.

Working closely with others who speak different languages may be challenging, but through interpreters, creativity, and teamwork, language diversity can be beneficial to everyone.