Learning English a key part of settling in Chicago for Fire players

Now held virtually because of the pandemic, four Fire players are taking part in three two-hour classes per week to learn the primary language of their new home.

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Alvaro Medran figures to be a key part of the 2021 Fire.

Alvaro Medran is working to learn English.

Courtesy of the Fire

Midfielder Alvaro Medran set two goals for himself when he joined the Fire in October. The first was to play well. The second was to learn English.

Though he can’t move toward the first objective right now, he’s one of four native Spanish speakers on the Fire roster working at the other one.

Medran, Ignacio Aliseda, Gaston Gimenez and Miguel Angel Navarro are taking English classes with Chicago-based language teacher Erick Hernandez. Now held virtually because of the pandemic, the players take part in three two-hour classes per week to learn the primary language of their new home.

Because he’s slightly ahead of his teammates in the learning process, Medran is not grouped in their sessions. Medran, who started taking English courses in October for the first time since he was 16, said he understands almost everything in English but has to be aware of new words and phrases.

Speaking through a translator, Medran said he can’t hold conversations in English but can talk using the language. And from past experience, he knows the importance for players of speaking the local tongue.

“It’s something that’s necessary in order to make yourself part of the club,” Medran said. “I knew I had the experience of having teammates who came to Spain from other parts of the world and sometimes it was a little difficult for them to adapt and acclimate to the club because of the language issues. Once I knew I was coming, I set myself a goal of learning English because it’s important for life, but it’s also important to be able to adapt to the club and adapt as quickly as possible in order to be able to get along with your teammates and speak with them.”

As Medran alluded to, helping players learn English is an important step in acclimating them to their new club and city. The Fire have been providing this service for players and staff for around a year, and sporting director Georg Heitz doesn’t need to be reminded of how much it matters to help new players settle in.

Language training is a part of that.

“It’s really our job,” Heitz said of helping players settle in. “If you sign a player and in the end it doesn’t work out, it might not be only the player’s mistake, but also ours. So we have to really ensure that we [do] everything so they feel comfortable and so they can focus on their job.”

The Fire locker room is a diverse place. Languages spoken include English, Polish, German, Serbian and Spanish. Coach Raphael Wicky is fluent in Spanish, English, French and German, while Jonathan Bornstein and Francisco Calvo serve as the primary English-to-Spanish translators in the dressing room. The Fire staff and front office also has employees who speak a variety of languages.

Medran can translate the occasional word or phrase, and he’s supplementing his learning by watching some shows in English with Spanish subtitles or vice versa. Recently, he watched “Bad Boys For Life” in English with subtitles in Spanish and was pleasantly surprised by how much he understood.

“It’s important to have English to be able to communicate with our teammates, to be able to understand everything that they’re asking of us, the tactical items, anything that’s technical, to be able to really get the gist of what the coaching staff is asking,” Medran said. “It’s important to be able to have this language and use it.”

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