Louis van Gaal, Manager of Manchester United, hit the headlines this week when he demanded that his Spanish-speaking players should learn English.

One player in particular, Antonio Valencia, got stick from the press when it was revealed that his English is not good enough for his Manager, and he has to take English lessons. “Why hasn’t he mastered English in the 8 years he’s been living here?” was the question.

The answer is that learning a language is not always easy, even when you live in that country and have plenty of opportunity to practise. Language classes are clearly a good idea, and it looks as though Valencia will be benefiting from one-to-one English lessons, which will allow him and his teacher to work through the areas where he is less confident.

In an earlier blog that la Academia published about how adults and children learn languages, we remarked on research that showed that children fare better than adults in a foreign language culture, because people are prepared to correct them more than adults.

Antonio Valencia has probably reached a degree of competence where he can get by in daily life, and now he speaks English well enough that to correct him seems rude. By making him go back to language lessons, van Gaal is giving him the opportunity to build on what he as learned, unlearn some errors, and to improve his vocabulary.  This can surely only add to his confidence and make him feel more at home in the UK.

La Academia has experience of teaching Premier League footballers English – and also their families. Helping footballers to build their confidence and to enjoy their life in England much more is very rewarding. This may be an outcome that Manchester United’s opponents will not be happy about, but as linguists we can only applaud Mr van Gaal’s decision!