As the world arrives in Salt Lake City during the next three weeks, Utah will become an even greater linguistic melting pot than usual, a conglomeration of dozens of different languages and dialects from around the globe.
Like any group of visitors to foreign soil, many of those coming to town for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games will have questions or need directions. They may well find them, thanks to the efforts of many local merchants and Utah-based Deseret Book.
The publishing company recently introduced a series of "I Speak" pins created especially for the Games. The pins, each of which features the Games emblem, say "I Speak . . . (name of language)" in 43 different languages, from Afrikaans to Kyrgyz to just about any language spoken in the world.
"We recognized the need for Olympic visitors to feel comfortable asking for directions or getting information," said Chris Schoebinger, marketing director for Deseret Book. "These pins help residents of Utah utilize one of our greatest resources — the ability that many Utahns have to speak foreign languages."
Schoebinger said the combination of the state's educated populace and the fact that many residents served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in foreign lands make Utah a unique place as an Olympic host — a place where many tongues are spoken and easily understood.
So Deseret Book contracted with Aminco, the only officially licensed supplier of pins to the 2002 Games, to produce 125,000 pins divided amongst the 43 languages.
For Kevin Hall, owner of four Guru's restaurants in Salt Lake City and Provo, the pins are a perfect match for his company and its community-friendly philosophy. Hall always has stressed the importance of community service to his employees, and he is purchasing pins for those on his staff who speak foreign languages.
"We always tell our partners (employees) that we want them involved in serving the community," Hall said. "In fact, we pay them for two hours a month to do community service. So when we heard about the 'I Speak' pins, we decided it was the perfect way to help visitors and athletes coming to Utah to know they're welcome in our restaurants."
At Hall's Guru's on South Temple in Salt Lake City, one of his partners is Lawrence Dudley, who is hearing-impaired. He will wear a pin that says, "I Speak American Sign Language." Three other Guru's employees speak Spanish, so Rafael Veloz, Carina Martinez and Carlos Canche all will sport pins that read, "Hablo Espaol."
"We're sure we'll get Olympic visitors at Guru's," Hall said, "and we hope these pins will make them feel a bit more comfortable when they can converse with us."
Schoebinger said other restaurants, hotels and hospitality companies are discovering the value of having employees wear the pins, which Deseret Book is selling at cost for $3 each.
"Our idea was never to use these pins as a moneymaking enterprise," he said. "Deseret Book's primary interest has been to make the community more user-friendly for visitors during the Games."
A number of pins have been selling quickly since they were released last month, and Schoebinger said he expects several to sell out before visitors begin to arrive for the Games, which begin Feb. 8. He said the pins are sold only at Deseret Book stores along the Wasatch Front.