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It took a little longer than expected, but Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani has finally emerged as a multicultural star of global proportions. He is now following the type of meteoric rise in popularity enjoyed by a fellow countryman, Ichiro Suzuki, many years ago. And the same question asked of Ichiro is now posed to the new star: Does Shohei speak English?
Shohei can understand some English words and phrases, but he has only played professional baseball in America since 2018 and has yet to speak the language fluently. He definitely knows English (and even some Spanish) phrases, which he uses at times to endear himself to teammates and coaches.
Why Should Shohei Speak English?
It’s not a requirement for any Major League Baseball player to speak the language most common in the United States. (Most people are unaware, but the United States has no official language; English is just used the most). Many foreign-born players have succeeded just fine working through interpreters, whether during pre- and post-game interviews, or even in the dugout.
However, some in the media, and maybe even in the general population of fans, might expect a player to learn English after playing so many years in the big leagues. A media personality could challenge Shonei about not learning English fast enough.
It happened to Ichiro Suzuki in 2016 (erroneously, as the future Hall of Famer speaks English quite well, and the ESPN personality later apologized); and could indeed happen with Shohei.
If you don’t believe Ichiro’s experiences won’t repeat with Shohei, consider how they both are known quite well by first name only. Ichiro pretty much came to America already with the single-name moniker; Shonei didn’t, but the media already often just uses “Shonei.” Everyone knows who they are referring to.
But should Shohei learn to speak English, and if so, when? It’s really up to the player, his comfort level with the language, and probably his needs both on and off the field. If Shohei believed speaking English would help him play baseball better, odds are he would at least try.
Can Teammates Communicate with Shohei Ohtani?
It might not be in exchanges of fluent sentences, but Shohei certainly communicates with his teammates, and coaches. A memorable ESPN article in September 2019 painted a picture of a happy-go-lucky locker room presence ~ with hints of mischief.
Shohei even has used Spanish words or phrases with teammates! It helped that a lot of Latin players were his teammates and opponents when Shohei played in the Japanese professional league (Nippon Professional Baseball, or NPB), so he came to America with some familiarity with that language.
For English, Shohei came to the United States totally with a fresh slate. But he’s shown signs that he understands some of the language well enough.
Shohei’s Top Uses of English (So Far)
Here are our favorite things or actions Shohei has done so far using English:
- Keep fight! In his rookie season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, while a teammate fought off pitches and extended an at bat, Shohei yelled from the dugout “Keep fight!” to encourage the hitter. His teammates got a laugh out of it, and even kept using the phrase to nurture rallies later in the season.
- Spanish bad words. Since he came to America with a few Spanish words under his belt, Shohei is known to generate chuckles by using Spanish swear words around the ballpark.
- Happy Easter! … is what Angels superstar Mike Trout taught Shohei to say to teammates on his Major League debut on April 1, 2018 ~ to plenty of laughs.
- Jose. … is the nickname his first catcher on the Angels called him, trying to establish a solid rapport with the pitcher. It was meant to be ice-breaking, but Shohei took it to mean Jose was his adopted American name. (Think about how similar “Jose” is with “Shohei”).
Final Words on Shohei Ohtani Speaking English
Shohei Ohtani has not yet mastered English, into his 4th Major League Baseball season. Still, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to speak the language quite well if, like previous Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki, he plays many more seasons in the United States.
As early as 2019, teammates suspected he knew more English words than he acknowledged. “I call him out a lot, actually, because I know he understands it,” then-Angels teammate Noe Ramirez told ESPN. “I know he can speak it.” In fact, so far in his MLB career, Shohei is known as quite the jokester in locker rooms and around teammates. Much like Ichiro was.
Question: Is Shohei good at baseball?
Answer: Shohei Ohtani is very good at baseball. He earned the American League’s Rookie of the Year honor after his first season in 2018, then worked through serious injuries to return full-strength in 2021, when his prowess both at the plate hitting and on the mound pitching truly blossomed. By mid-season he was among the leaders in slugging statistics, including home runs, and also was faring very well compared with contemporary pitchers in his league.
Q.: When can Ichiro Suzuki join the Hall of Fame?
A.: Ichiro is expected to be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, which is a required 5 years after his retirement from baseball, or in 2024.