Usain Bolt had a humble upbringing in Jamaica and mostly focused on sports in his youth. Did that stop him from polishing his English skills?
Usain Bolt speaks English. He demonstrated his speaking skills during interviews and press conferences at the Olympics and other international events, in addition to appearing on numerous talk shows. He’s also fluent in Jamaican Patois.
Usain Bolt’s Language Skills
Usain Bolt’s interviews make it clear that he has a good command of English, but that wasn’t always the case. According to Newsweek, the Jamaican sprinter didn’t speak standard English until he started taking part in international athletics events and winning medals.
Bolt admitted that he only cared about sports growing up, and English definitely wasn’t his favorite school subject. Even if he wasn’t fully committed to learning this language in school, he was exposed to it in many different ways.
It came in handy that Bolt’s native language Jamaican Patois was significantly influenced by English. It’s an English-based creole language with West African influences, which borrows many words from English but simplifies their spelling.
Jamaican Patois differentiates from English in pronunciation and vocabulary, and it’s primarily used as a spoken language in Jamaica. Despite the widespread usage of Patois, Jamaican English is the official language of Jamaica, and it’s used in all domains of public life.
Usain Bolt was exposed to both idioms in his youth and significantly improved his standard English since winning his first two gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Talk Show Appearances
Bolt took part in many interviews and press conferences at the Olympics, the World Championships, and other international events, conducted entirely in English. He also demonstrated his ability to hold a conversation during several notable talk show appearances.
Bolt made his late-night US debut when he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman shortly after his triumph at the 2008 Summer Olympics. He was a little bit nervous but still proved himself as a great guest and entertained the audience with many hilarious anecdotes.
This was just the first of many talk show appearances that he made over the years. Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, and Arsenio Hall also interviewed him on live air, and he was a guest on James Corden’s show more than once.
Bolt was also interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres several times. One of their interviews took place shortly after the famous comedian came under fire for posting a photo of herself riding Bolt’s back, and captioned it by writing, “This is how I’m running errands from now on.”
Many people felt her post was racist, and Bolt tried to jokingly address the controversy on her show in 2016. He asked the host if she wants him to help her run errands at the end of the interview, but DeGeneres just brushed his joke off.
Loyal to Jamaica
The most effective way to learn a new language is to be constantly exposed to it, and Usain Bolt could’ve done this if he moved to the US. After making his debut at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Athletics, he received numerous offers from American colleges but decided to turn them down.
Many people advised him to accept a scholarship overseas, but training in the US didn’t appeal to the young sprinter. Bolt was aware that he would be subjected to immense pressure, which would lead to overtraining and burnout, and leave his body completely broken.
He also wanted to stay close to his family and enjoy the warmth and familiarity of Jamaica for as long as he could. After spending his entire life in this tropical Caribbean country, training in “some cold state” was out of the question for Bolt. After his Olympic victories, Bolt became somewhat of a national hero in Jamaica and always tried very hard to make his country proud. Bolt even insisted that his advertising campaigns are shot in Jamaica, in an attempt to boost the local economy by having his sponsors work with a local crew.