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Mbaye and I: Bears, FIFA, 24 offer integral English lessons

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Mbaye enjoys his first Chicago snow on our deck. (photo by Ricci Shryock)

My roommate's Senegalese boyfriend is staying with us in the Wrig while he's here in the US. He speaks French. His English, while far superior to my French and coming along nicely ... is still in its beginning stages.

When my roommate, who's also a journalist and met Mbaye while working as a reporter in Senegal, isn't around to translate, we're finding a common language though sports -- both real and fake. Oh yeah ... and Jack Bauer.

Through the video game FIFA 09 and by watching this past Sunday's Bears game, Mbaye has gained one of the most important lessons in American English -- how to effectively express frustration at something that's entirely out of your control. Mind you, it's not his own frustration being expressed, but rather my own that he observes and adroitly imitates.

Among the phrases he's mastered are "What are you doing?" and "C'mon!"

We're not talking "What are you doing?" as in what are you up to or "c'mon" as in come with us! My use of these phrases is usually prompted by the computerized referee calling my striker offsides when clearly he wasn't, which sends me into a brief fit of mild rage that includes, "Stupid referee! What are you doing? C'mon!"

Which reminds me -- 'stupid referee' is also a phrase Mbaye has picked up.

These phrases were also featured prominently during Sunday's Bears game. As in: "Kyle Orton ... what are you doing!?!?!" or "Charles Tillman ... What are you doing!?!?!?! C'mon!!!"

If you've ever tried to explain American football to someone who doesn't speak the language and knows next to nothing about the sport, you know that this it's not an easy task. It involves a great deal of charades (my impression of a lineman is very similar to that of my Stay-puff Marshmallow Man) and, if you're using last Sunday's Bears-Vikings game as a teaching tool, the repetition of the word 'bad' factors in heavily.

In the first half of the game, with the Bears on the 1-yard line leading 7-3, I explained that this was a good thing. "Bon," I said. "Bon! Bon!" I even made my cheesiest, most confident happy face. I motioned with my fingers that our team had four chances (four chances!) to move the ball what amounted to about an inch on the TV screen.

When the Bears couldn't do it, Mbaye made a passing motion with his arm and looked at me with an inquisitive stare as if to say, "Why didn't they run a play action when clearly they must know that the Vikings are expecting -- nay, banking on -- yet another run up the gut?" It's the same inquisitive look that throngs of Bears fans would likely have given to offensive coordinator Ron Turner given the opportunity.

I was expecting to struggle with trying to teach him the ins, outs and what-have-yous of American Football and struggle I did. What I wasn't expecting, though, was the embarrassment I would feel when it came to the trappings that accompanied the watching of American football on television with someone relatively new to American culture. Faith Hill's pregame serenade is hugely ostentatious and unnecessary. And the fans -- a guy who painted his entire body, including his bald head, purple to support the Vikings? That can't be good. Suddenly, when you watch TV with a foreigner who's not familiar with how ridiculous we can be at times, you begin to constantly ask the question, "Is this what he thinks America is all about?"

The tables turned a bit the other night when we watched "24: Redemption" -- the two-hour prequel to the forthcoming season of "24."

In it, a band of rebels are planning a coup in Sengala, Africa (a completely fictitious place that I assumed was the capital of Senegal the first time I watched it). To assist in the rebels' efforts, they take up an army of enslaved children. In one scene that takes place by firelight, Colonel Dubaku is giving a pep talk to these boy soldiers. He explains how their intended target are the "cock-a-roaches." "And what do we do to cock-a-roaches," he rhetorically asks. "We kill de cock-aroach!"

This prompts the children to shout, in unison, over and over, "Kill de cock-a-roach! Kill de cock-a-roach!" And later in the episode, when Jack Bauer himself is staring down the barrel of an AK-47 wielded by one of these youths, what is the child muttering? That's right -- "Kill de cock-a-roach."

This, apparently, is how Americans view Africa -- or at least African rebels. Mbaye thought it hilarious and has taken to intermittently shouting, "Kill de cock-a-roach!" whenever the mood strikes.

He especially enjoys yelling "Kill de cock-a-roach!" when he's pummeling me in FIFA 09.

For the uninitiated, FIFA 09 is a highly addictive soccer video game that we play on the Playstation 3. It is, in the opinion of this writer, the single most impressive achievement by the video game industry to date. The graphics, the gameplay and ... man, I could go on and on extolling its virtues.

Kyle, my Sports Pros(e) co-author, and I have become FIFA video game aficionados throughout the past few months. We play it sporadically -- a way to pass time while we're waiting for, well, anything. Or when we simply don't want to talk to each other or look at each other but would rather not be two 20-something men playing video games alone. Because somehow it feels more socially acceptable when you're playing against another tangible human.

Mbaye takes FIFA considerably more seriously than we do.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he's an actual real-life, flesh-and-blood soccer player, but he craves competition and is merciless when it comes to beating his opponent. My favorite club is Barcelona. I'm not familiar enough with the players to tell you who they are or what their real-world tendencies are, but I know the guy at the top is really good at passing to the guy in the middle who is a great ball handler and will usually get a solid shot off on goal if I'm lucky enough not to accidentally hit the 'pass' button when I mean to hit the 'shoot' button. Mbaye, on the other hand, knows them all and is happy to tell you which one just scored against you.

Mbaye and I alternate between playing on the same team and playing each other. I can tell he gets frustrated with me when I make ridiculous bone-headed mistakes. I hear my grandfather's voice as I chide myself, "(Gosh darn it) Kevin ... What are you doing!?!?!" When we play against each other, he's impossible to beat. My frustration only adds to his glee, which in turn compounds my frustration.

While Kyle is also a better FIFA player than I, he will show a bit of strategic mercy when needed. As the score gets a bit out of range for me, we'll reset the game and start over. Or, I suspect he's done this once or twice, he'll secretly let me score to get my hopes up and keep my interest piqued.

This will probably never happen with Mbaye. I got home from work today to find him on the couch engrossed in another game of FIFA. While he's waiting for his tryouts to begin, there's not a whole lot for him to do here in cold, snowy Chicago. If he had played the game all day, it wouldn't surprise me. I also wouldn't blame him. As I mentioned before, it's a hell of a game.

When I walked in the door, he greeted me with an emphatic, "Kill de cock-a-roach!" I took a seat next to him where he proceeded to tell me, "I was Liverpool. Me ..." (he holds up two index fingers to demonstrate 11). "Them ..." (with both hands he makes a big goose egg ... zero).

He's killed de cock-a-roach. And as I reach for the other controller, I have no doubt he'll kill again.

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin Allen published on December 2, 2008 4:25 PM.

USC wants to wear red uniforms on Saturday; Pete Carroll willing to give up two timeouts to do so was the previous entry in this blog.

Sean Avery suspended indefinitely for comments about his famous ex-girlfriends and other NHL players is the next entry in this blog.

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