The Art of ... Learning English

November 5, 2013
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Sergey Karasev
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

Zydrunas Ilgauskas had to go through it. Anderson Varejao had to go through it.

Not only did those players enter the league having to compete with some of the planet’s best athletes – learning new teammates and systems and surroundings – but they had to do while learning a different language.

Mike Brown’s defensive philosophy can be taxing on guys who speak the Queen’s English. Learning that terminology in another tongue is an even taller order.

Cavs rookie swingman Sergey Karasev has been learning English for most of his young life. And he’s impressed almost everyone – from coaches to teammates to the media – with his understanding of the language. Sure he’ll conjugate a verb wrong or misuse a common idiom, but for a guy who just moved to America after spending a lifetime in Russia, he’s got things pretty well figured out.

In today’s Art of …, Sergey explains how he learned the language and how he plans to continue his linguistic education now that he’s Stateside …


How long have you been learning to speak English?

Sergey Karasev: I started learning when I was very young, around five years old, because I travel with dad every time. When he knew that he was gonna sign with Greek team, I started learning English in Moscow because I knew that I will go with him and probably go to English school, so I need to know something.

How difficult was it in the early going?

Karasev: I started to learn, like, probably a half year after I came there. I go to English school and it was very tough, very hard. The first couple months, I don’t understand nothing. It was very hard.

But after I found some friends, started talking a little bit, and then finish my school there. Then I came to Russia and every day, I go to English forum trying to learn because I knew if I want to go play in Europe or NBA somewhere, English is the first language and I need to know it. It’s helped me in practices, in the games.

How important is it to have an understanding of English playing basketball overseas?

Karasev: It’s like, say coach says take timeout (and) calls a play somewhere in Europe. If you’re going to explain it in English, then somebody translates in Russian, maybe they forget something. So English helped me a lot. That’s why I try to learn it and still try to learn it a lot.

Are more international guys starting to learn English for that reason?

Karasev: Now, basketball players, they start to learn English because they have a lot of international coaches in Russia and a lot of international players. So they learn it. But a couple years ago, it was really hard because not a lot of players knew English and sometimes they were confused in practices and in games.

I don’t know why that happened because I thought all players in Europe, like Serbia and some other countries, they know English very well. They don’t have maybe good accents or something, but they understand everything, they can speak, they can communicate with the coach. The last couple years in Russia, it has gone up.

Is your English continuing to get better and sink in just from being here – listening to music or watching TV?

Karasev: Yeah, probably. I like to listen to music, I listen everywhere. If I travel somewhere, I take earphones. Driving the car, every time I listen. And I like more English music than Russian, so this helps me.

I’m not a fan of TV shows. I know a lot of people in America, they watch a lot of TV shows and everybody asks me, ‘What do you watch?’

I don’t watch TV shows here, but I also don’t watch Russian TV shows. Sometimes I can watch maybe some sports channels or watch some movies. But I’m not really a fan. I like to more play PlayStation 3 or some video games.

What do you play in PlayStation?

Karasev: I like to play soccer and I play NBA. When I came here, I tried to play a little bit of NFL. I tried to do it and now I’m getting better a little bit. I like racing (games). I’m not so much a fan of shooting games.

I hope when my girlfriend comes (to Cleveland), she’ll help me a lot with this – play PlayStation with me a little bit.

So your girlfriend is also a fan of video games?

Karasev: (laughs) No. I can’t say that she loves it. She more loves shopping, probably. Girls love that. But I hope she’s going to help me a little bit.

Did you pick up some of the language watching NBA games in Russia or did they dub the call in Russian?

Karasev: I watch it on NBA.com, so they have English broadcasters. I just buy League Pass, so for a whole year I can watch it because, Russian channels, like to get NBA TV, you need to buy everything.

Do you speak any other languages?

Karasev: No. But I can count in Greek from 1 to 10.

During practice, when you get p*ssed off, do you curse in Russian?

Karasev: (laughs) Yeah.