Do you speak English? - Multilingual judging

Posted in NEWS on February 18, 2005

By Wizards of the Coast


European GPs and Pro Tours are two types of tournament that gather hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of players, coming from many different countries. At each Pro Tour you can see players from dozens of countries, each of them with its own language, almost impossible to understand for all the others. Magic is a game that makes you socialize with others, both through the love for the game (often, you don't even need to say a single word) and through the opportunity to meet people who live thousands of miles away from you and who have a really different culture (here you need to use English as an universal language).

But what happens if one of the players doesn't know English at all, or doesn't speak any language in common with his opponent? This is one of the situations in which the judges are needed to help players! Wizards of the Coast makes sure that international events are staffed with judges who have certain language skills. At Pro Tours there is always someone who can speak the major "foreign" languages such as Japanese and French. At European Grand Prix events the most common language is always the local one, and the local judges will serve as translators if needed. At any international event, it is a good idea to find out who the potential translators are before the tournament starts. Make sure you know who speaks the languages that you are most likely to need, but take note of any less common language skills as well. Sometimes this is part of the introduction rituals at the first judge meeting: everyone says their name, level and languages.

Approaching the players In front of you, there are two players who are not able to communicate properly; you are the only one who knows both languages and you are called to help them. The first question that has to come into your mind, as a good international judge, is "What do players expect from me? "Players need to feel your skills and professionalism; more, you need to guarantee them that you will solve their problem. What do players fear? Every player sees as a negative point the fact that he's not able to understand all those strange words that people in front of him are saying. Your first task is to care about the feelings of the players; telling them you are there to help them solve their problems. Be kind, be friendly, they are people like you and they are in a difficult situation; as you surely would need, they need you to make them feel comfortable. Tell them they shouldn't worry, because you are going to translate every single word their opponent will say; this is a very good move to help them trust you and feel better. It can sometimes happen that because of difficult rules and game situations, you will talk for a long time with one player and your dialogue can become fast, making the translation very difficult. If this happens, be sure to tell the other player that you are not going to translate everything, but that you are going to translate every detail useful for that situation. Make sure it is clear that your role is to protect the integrity of the game (and not to give advice to a player in a language his opponent doesn't know). In most cases, the misunderstanding is caused by an incorrect use of some words (it happened to one of us that a player wanted to say "before" and said "after" instead, because his English knowledge was poor) or by the use of long and complex sentences. You must be sure that both players understand each single sentence. Use short sentences and simple words and ask the players to confirm they are following your dialogue without any doubts. You can also repeat the most important words or sentences, in order to make them fully understood.

International tournaments

In several tournaments, there will be only one judge who is able to speak a less common language (for example, Italian); it can happen that you are not called directly by the players, but by a colleague. In this situation you and your colleague have to know your roles precisely. This will make you look more professional to the players. Usually, the first judge who went to the table (the one who called you) will be in charge to manage the dialogue and to give the final ruling, while you will be just a simple translator. Remember to tell this to both players, in order not to confuse them. Both players will feel more comfortable with the situation. The translator is there to help, and the other player doesn't suddenly feel that the ruling will be made by a judge who might be more friendly towards his opponent. When you are the judge who needs help from a translator, you should explain the situation to the translating judge before he or she talks to the players. Tell the translator what you know about the situation and what the players have said to you. It is quite rare to find a player who speaks no English at all, so usually you have some statements from the player(s) already. Tell the translator why you called him. Did the player ask for a translator, or did you decide that one was needed? Did the player ask for a translator because he doesn't know how to say something in English, or because he didn't understand something you said? When translating a player's statement for a colleague, be sure to translate everything. A judge needs all the information in order to make a ruling. You must translate what the player is saying faithfully, and make sure your colleague understands what the player is saying.

Language barriers often cause disagreements about the game state. Since the translator is often called after the original judge has already spent some time talking to the players, one should remember everything that was said before the translator was called, and not give dishonest players an opportunity to change their story. If the problem is very simple, it is sometimes not necessary to have the original judge make the ruling. For example, if the player simply wants to know whether he can target a particular creature with a spell, there is usually no reason to talk to your colleague before giving the answer .This saves time. In more complicated situations one should usually let the first judge make the final ruling. Rarely, it can happen that it is better to have the translator to continue the whole dialogue and to give the final ruling; the two judges involved must agree on who will continue to manage the dialogue with the players. Obviously, in this case, the judges must tell the players that the first judge is going to be substituted for by the translator, just to speed up their work and not because the first judge was not good enough.


When a match looks interesting, especially at the end of the last rounds of Swiss, spectators gather around the table and talk normally. When everyone is able to understand everything, there is no problem. However, when half of the spectators speak a language and the other half speak another language; the situation can become quite "hot". If you notice this, even if you are not called to that table, it is useful to remind spectators not to talk loudly in their own language until the end of the match. The reason is simple: you don't want a player to understand what spectators are saying. Furthermore, even if both players and spectators know you speak and understand both languages, it is much more professional to ask spectators to whisper their comments instead of saying them loudly. Don't take for granted the fact that your presence makes the players feel "protected", do something more, ask the spectators to help you. Finally, the most stressful situation is when a player notices behind him some of his opponent's team-mates. In order to play more relaxed (and because they might, even without meaning to do so, give information to his opponent), he doesn't want them behind him and he's absolutely right in asking you to make them move to the other side of the table.


At international events (but also in local events, of course), professional appearance and behavior are very important aspects for a judge. One of the most effective ways to give to all players a more professional idea of the whole judging staff is to understand what they need, to care about their fears and to work for them the best you can; this way, you will gain their trust and their respect.

When translating, your first goals should be:

  • make the players feel comfortable
  • make the players trust you
  • prevent spectators from causing troubles
  • act as a team with your colleagues

Riccardo Tessitori, Level 3 and Johanna Knuutinen, Level 3