From Spanish at Guilderland to translating for soccer players

— Photo from Justin Veldhuis

Listening intently: Josef Martinez of Atlanta United FC answers a question in Spanish on camera during an interview with ESPN, while team spokesman and Guilderland native Justin Veldhuis, right, listens and prepares to translate Martinez’s reply into English. They were in Minnesota and had just beaten Minnesota United, 6-1. Martinez had scored three goals and was the “man of the match,” said Veldhuis.

GUILDERLAND — Not quite a decade after his 2008 graduation from Guilderland, Justin Veldhuis is using the Spanish that he started studying at Farnsworth Middle School in his new job, translating for soccer players.

As communications coordinator for Atlanta United FC — a new major-league soccer team — Veldhuis, 27, is the contact person for any members of the media wanting to interview the team’s players or coaches. About eight or nine — almost a third — of the 28 players are from Latin America, said Veldhuis, whose name is pronounced “Veld-house.”

When English-language media outlets want to talk with players or coaches, Veldhuis translates, including in press conferences, at one-on-one interviews, and for print articles.

He doesn’t translate on the pitch. “We have a couple of assistant coaches who speak both languages, and some players speak both as well,” he said.

It’s been “a bit of a learning curve,” Veldhuis said, learning the differences in pronunciation and slang heard in various Latin American countries, particularly since he learned much of his Spanish when he lived in Spain for a couple of years after college, teaching English at a secondary school.

Luckily, he said, in Spain he had a diverse group of  friends. “So I can notice now where someone is from, most of the time,” he said. Atlanta United FC has players from Argentina, Paraguay, Honduras, Venezuela, and Chile, according to Veldhuis. He has learned at least one new word or phrase every day since he started at the job in January, he estimates.

The most important thing to know, though, he said, is the soccer terminology, and he’s confident about that. He played soccer growing up — at Farnsworth Middle School and as a freshman at Guilderland — and has since played in intramural/adult leagues. He also ran cross-country and track through high school and his freshman year at Elon University in North Carolina, where he majored in print journalism and international relations.

“I have a good understanding of the game and the terminology,” he said.

When learning a new language, he thinks, being a good listener is critical. “When you go out with friends and co-workers, you just kind of pick up different things. You realize that you keep hearing certain phrases — even if they’re unfamiliar — being said in different contexts, and you kind of learn that way.”

He just finished graduate school in December, getting a master of business administration and a master’s degree in sports business management from the University of Central Florida.

Veldhuis may be a recent hire, but the club itself is even newer. It started this March. He joined during the preseason camp.

Asked about long-range plans, Veldhuis said his ideal job would combine sports, travel, and languages. He travels “a good bit” now — mainly within the United States and Canada, where Atlanta United FC plays.


Clarified on April 19, 2017: Justin Veldhuis explained in detail his own athletic career.

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