As Swiss people in Basel mostly speak Swiss German, Federer of course is most comfortable and natural in speaking Swiss German. He was brought up speaking German as well as English, which is another result of having a South African mother.
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French, on the other hand, was not a language he was able to learn until a little later in his childhood. At the young age of 14, he needed to move to the Swiss national tennis academy in Ecublens near Lausanne, the southwestern French-speaking part of the country.
Given how serious he was about pursuing a professional tennis career, Federer made the sacrifice of leaving home for an extended time, to train in a community where he arrived barely knowing the local language.
He felt isolated and was treated differently for being the “Swiss German” kid, but he gradually picked up French during his time there. Three years later, he relocated to Biel, back near Basel, for further training. But his French mastery stayed with him.
Today, it’s easy to tell how easily Federer moves from speaking English to German or Swiss German to French, which is just as fluid as his movement from the baseline to the net in order to finish the point with a cross-court forehand volley. As for the other languages, it isn’t really known to what extent Federer’s fluency in those is.
There have been occasions after his matches at the Shanghai Masters and Italian Open tournaments when Federer addresses the crowd in Mandarin and Italian, respectively. However, no records of him doing lengthy interviews in those languages have been found.
It’s very likely that he knows just enough of them to strike up casual conversations while traveling country to country. That’s something many of us would love to be able to do, isn’t it?
How Does Federer Feel About Being Multilingual?
If you ever live the kind of lifestyle that a global superstar like Roger Federer lives, you might find there are certain pros and cons to knowing multiple languages. There’s definitely the plus of being more marketable to different brands, and being more relatable to fans from all over the world.
The downside of being multilingual? A much greater number of people want a piece of you, especially when it comes to interviews and press conferences. In Federer’s case, his interviews during tournaments tend to be 3-4 times longer than the average pro player’s interviews.
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That is a direct result of being asked questions in his four main languages (English, Swiss German, German and French), all of which he generously takes his time answering. And as it turns out, he enjoys doing so. “I think talking in different languages is always an interesting thing,” Federer said during a press conference after his first-round victory back at the 2018 Australian Open, where he had won his most recent Grand Slam Men’s Singles trophy.
Federer went on to say that he appreciates having opportunities to speak to the press, something which not all players are keen on doing, particularly after a disappointing loss in a tournament.
For him, the press is “sort of a bridge” to not just tennis fans but even people who don’t really understand the sport but read up and hear about it in the news. Whenever he speaks and provides journalists with material for their pieces, he hopes to help create “a good story for the people who read it or are watching it on TV.”
Ultimately, Federer sees himself as an ambassador of tennis, whether he’s on or off the court. He hopes through press conferences and other media commitments, more readers and viewers will “think tennis is a great sport, it’s actually interesting.” So, is it really any wonder as to why he’s the most well-liked tennis player – or perhaps even athlete – in the world?