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We are watching a soccer match and we see that a foul has been given. The player’s run-up to the referee and can be seen speaking to him/her and the referee speaks back to them. But can they actually understand each other? What language are they speaking? That brings us to the question, do referees speak multiple languages?
As a rule, referees will speak to soccer players in English and this is because it is the most common language that is spoken all over Europe. When it comes to international matches, however, there are four main languages that are spoken, English, German, French, and Spanish. All international referees must have a good command of English as a starting point.
According to FIFA, all match day officials are expected to have a good grasp of English. So if a referee is officiating in a league for example Spain, and he/she does not have a good grasp of Spanish, then he/she will speak in English to both sets of players.
As we can usually see, all players have a good knowledge of certain words spoken by the referee in English, words like a goal, foul, sorry, offside, etc if their native language can not be spoken by the main referee.
Also, a referee will not just walk up to a player and start a conversation while on the pitch in the middle of a game. It is his/her job to simply tell only both sets of players when a foul has been committed or if there is a controversial call, the referee will then speak to both sets of players and tell them his/her decision and why they made it.
It is because of this that when a player commits a foul, that player already knows in general what the referee is going to be talking to him about. It can also go the other way too. When the main referee makes a decision that is 50/50 (could go to either team) then the player will have a good idea as to why the call went against him and the referee will be explaining this to him.
The other important thing that referees have at their disposal is body language, all referees that are employed by FIFA use signals and whistles during games to bring attention to a foul or corner kick. There is a specific signal for each foul so that every player on the pitch knows exactly what is going on without the need for someone to translate what is going on.
This is so referees and players do not have to communicate in different languages, they can simply understand the signal and move on with the game. Without the signals, you would then need a lot of translators for every game. Add to that, the referees try and use their body language as often as they can to interpret to the players as well as coaches exactly what is going on at any given time on the pitch.