Read My Lips Deaf Twitterer Divines Euro 2012 Sideline Chatter
What do football trainers scream to their players from the sidelines? Deaf German Twitter user Julia Probst will tell you. She reads the lips of both players and coaches and passes along their wisdom to her growing legion of followers.
Standing at the edge of the pitch, German national team trainer Joachim Löw yells at his players. His shouts may be loud, but for television viewers, they are drowned out by commentator analysis, cheering fans and the whistle of the referee. They are inaudible, a mystery.
Unless you follow Julia Probst's Twitter feed. "Man, Thomas! You gave that away!" she posts, enlightening readers just seconds later as to what Löw shrieked following a bad pass by Thomas Müller.
Probst has no trouble understanding Löw and anyone else both on and off the field caught yelling on camera. The 30-year-old has been deaf since birth and can read lips. Tweeting under the name @EinAugenschmaus ("a treat to the eye"), and using the hashtag #Ableseservice, she reveals all that she sees.
Within seconds, the German manager's inaudible screams are suddenly translated into "Ey -- move!", "Come on, Lukas!" or "Shit, man!"
Probst tells SPIEGEL ONLINE that she prefers to watch match-broadcasts from home, where she can concentrate without being disturbed. "I hold my BlackBerry primed and ready, and as soon as I see something, I start typing," she says.
Though what's said around the pitch hardly qualifies as fine rhetoric, it is certainly enjoyable as gossip. Even if there isn't much to it at times, from a frustrated "Oh my god!" from player Mesut Özil, to Bastian Schweinsteiger screaming "Mario, finish it!" to his teammate Mario Gomez. Or an approving "Yes sir!" from team manager Oliver Bierhoff, watching from the stands.
A Platform for Change
Much of what is said, of course, would be better left unwritten, but Probst reacts to some of the cruder remarks with humor: "Did he mean the ball?" she tweeted after lip-reading one particularly obscene comment.
And though she can see a lot of what's being said, Probst says, "I only tweet when I'm sure that I'm correct. When I understand everything immediately, then I'm certain of it." Her fans clamor to her every tweet, even if it's only a few words long.
Probst has long since become an Internet sensation. Her blog is one of the best-known in Germany, and ABC News named her as one of the 10 most influential people on Twitter, the only German to have made the list. She uses her fame as a platform to campaign on behalf of the deaf and those with other disabilities. Her efforts are already paying off. Video podcasts made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel now include subtitles. Earlier this year, the German television station Phoenix broadcast Merkel's New Year speech with a sign-language interpreter for the first time. Some of German broadcaster ARD's digital content is now available with subtitles.
But Probst wants more. All TV programs should be subtitled she says; news and children's programs should be broadcast with sign-language interpreters. All trains should be equipped with digital read-out boards -- not just audio announcements. And emergency services throughout Germany, she says, should be accessible via text message -- not just phonecalls.
Probst has been providing her football service since 2009. By helping those who aren't deaf, she is raising awareness of the difficulties faced by the deaf. She became especially well-known during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. She tweeted Bastian Schweinsteiger's motivational speeches prior to matches: "You can't get something from nothing." She kept readers up on Löw's constant complaints during Germany's second-game loss to Serbia: "Shit, I can't believe it!" he shrieked, and "It's a yellow card for everything!"
Probst now has more than 7,700 followers on Twitter. One follower tweeted: "Ableservice from @EinAugenschmaus makes one almost want to watch football."
"In Italy and Spain, lip-readers work for TV and newspapers," says Probst. "You can see that from the way that football players and trainers hold their hands in front of their mouths when talking." The German team is wising up too. In Germany's opening match against Portugal, Mesut Özil did the same.
Probst often gets requests to reveal what is being said in foreign languages. On Sunday, when Germany played Denmark, for example, her followers tweeted to ask her what the Danes were saying. But, Probst says, she can only lip-read in German and English, and only when the camera angle is a good one. "I'm no magician," she says. It was easier, she continues, to lip read during the World Cup in 2010. "There were many more close-up shots of the players and trainers."
At times, however, the football banter is indecipherable even for Probst. "Sorry," she apologized on one occasion as Löw paced the sidelines. "When Jogi screams so furiously, his mouth becomes misshapen." All Probst could decipher was "foot." We can only imagine the rest.