Clare Egan: a Biathlete who Speaks Six Languages
USA Clare Egan can chat up with many athletes in the World Cup in their own language: the dedicated linguist can speak six languages! The recent addition to her language skills is Korean; which Egan took up thinking ahead of Pyeongchang Olympics. After she graduated with Master’s degree in linguistics, biathlon family with its teams from all over the world and international staff on the US team have become her life school for learning languages.
BW (Biathlonworld): How did you get into learning languages?
CE (Clare Egan): For as long as I remember I loved learning languages, I was always intrigued by them. When I was 10 years old we went on vacation to Puerto Rico, an island next to USA where Spanish is spoken. I thought it was so cool to hear another language. A place I am from (Maine, USA) is very homogenous place, so you can’t hear many languages spoken around you. I always remember being intrigued by other languages. When I was 16, I studied abroad in Chile, where I learned Spanish. I learned French at school, because Maine is quite close to Quebec, the French-speaking province in Canada. At university, I studied Italian and German, as I spent one semester in Fribourg, Switzerland where both languages are spoken.
And then I really wanted to learn a new language, and as we were heading to Korea for the World Cup and Olympics in 2018, I thought I could try to learn some Korean!
BW: And how did you go about that?
CE:I live in a very small town, and I could not sign up for Korean class. So I bought text books for university students, I also found beginner’s class online for free. I also listened to an audio program. I learned Korean alphabet, it’s actually very easy. Now I can read in Korean quite easily, but since I don’t speak with anyone else, speaking is a hard part for me. I wish that I had an actual language teacher and went to a class to have more opportunity to speak. I keep working and hopefully next year I can say more than Annyeonghaseyo (hello) and mannaso pankawayo (nice to meet you). One cool thing about biathlon is that I get to practice my languages with biathletes from all over the world.
BW: Have you tried speaking Korean with Korean team?
CE:Yes, I have, and I was very nervous (laughs). I used some Korean to greet someone or to comment on the weather. Also during the World Cup in Korea when you say your bib number, I would say my number in Korean. I think the volunteers really liked that.
BW: How do you manage to combine your hobby with biathlon?
CE:I graduated with a Master’s degree from University of New Hampshire, where I was also on the ski team. This allowed me to do two things at once: to learn languages and to train.
What we do for our jobs as athletes, it is all physical work. It is really good to have a hobby that is a mental hobby. Something when you can sit down and exercise your brain, not your body. It does not feel like a chore to study. I think that knowing some German, Italian and French has made easier for me to get to know many different athletes on the World Cup.
BW:The next language after Pyeongchang is Chinese for Beijing 2020?
CE:I don’t think so (laughs). The reason I took up Korean is because of its alphabet, just like in English, you can learn letters. Chinese has over 5000 characters, and you have to be very brave to learn it. A part of me also wants to learn Russian, but I think doing Korean and Russian at the same time could be a bit too much.