Louis van Gaal is a genius. Inspired. Visionary. And I don’t mean just as a football manager, although he seems to be quite good at that too. I mean in his use of English.
You might think I’m being sarcastic. I’m not. Linguists consistently find that, in interactions between native and non-native speakers, it is often the native speakers who cause breakdowns in communication. Non-native speakers then blame themselves for not understanding. Van Gaal, to his credit, simply refuses to play this game.
When Van Gaal moved to Manchester United, a Dutch journalist wrote an article for the British press: ‘10 rules for interviewing Louis van Gaal’. “It’s his language now, not yours … It is not Mr. Van Gaal who has trouble speaking English, it is you, for not going along with his obviously much better interpretation of it.”
To exemplify Van Gaal’s ‘trouble’ with English, the journalist linked to a video of Van Gaal telling a BBC reporter “that’s a stupid question”. Watch the whole film, though, and you see he had good reason.
“Do you know anything at all about Manchester United?” asks a reporter. “At all?” says Van Gaal. “I think I know everything.” As he turns to walk away, a second reporter arrives on the scene. “Sorry, just one question sir, BBC … Tell us about Manchester United, what do you know about them?” “That’s a stupid question”, replies Van Gaal. “The biggest club of the world, ‘what do you know about Manchester United?’ I’m sorry, but …”
At a recent press conference Van Gaal introduced his newest player, the Colombian striker Radamel Falcao. Behind the scenes Falcao must have expressed concern about his English, because in a show of support Van Gaal asks the press, “What do you think about his English? Because … I had the same situation in Spain. In my first year I spoke English. In my second year, Spanish.” He takes Falcao’s hand. “And he is coming here, and he is speaking English, for you”, he gestures at the press. You monolingual morons, he seems to imply.