LONDON—Coaches and teammates confirmed Friday that U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has spent the past month studying with Rosetta Stone software in an effort to brush up on his English-language skills, which have grown rusty after several years of disuse.
Bob Bowman, who has coached the swimmer since 1996, said that with Phelps' limited grasp of the language it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Olympian to have an entire conversation in English while visiting London. Bowman, however, was confident that if Phelps continued to train hard he might yet be able to ask directions or order food at a restaurant.
"I've worked with Michael for years, and he’s always had a hard time speaking English,” said Bowman, adding that while Phelps was at the Olympics he would more than likely have to rely heavily on a Berlitz phrase book. "He's really trying his best to learn the language. He’s getting a lot better at saying things like 'boy,' 'dog,' and 'cat.'"
Spending three to four hours each day completing Rosetta Stone lessons, Phelps has thus far learned nearly 50 vocabulary words. However, the winner of 14 gold medals was initially only able to recall simple English greetings such as "hi" and "hey" as well as the affirmative declaration "yes."
Fellow Team USA swimmer Ryan Lochte told reporters he was impressed with Phelps' dedication to learning conversational English, adding that as recently as last month, Phelps communicated primarily through physical gestures, facial expressions, and pointing rather than speech.
"Outside of swimming competitions, I've never seen Michael so focused on anything," Lochte said. "Rosetta Stone has been good for him, because it starts out really slow, and he likes the pictures and sounds."
"It's great to see him trying to say actual words," Lochte added.
According to Lochte, Phelps had also practiced by conversing with people fluent in English, but often failed to comprehend what they were saying, complaining that they either talked too fast or used too many words.
"Michael always has this blank, confused look on his face as soon as another person starts speaking, and you can tell when you've completely lost him," Lochte said. "He's really baffled by numbers, but recently I heard him count all the way up to 25 without screwing up too bad."
Although Phelps has faced several setbacks while incorporating English into his daily life, the 27-year-old American athlete has reportedly remained eager to learn and become skilled at speaking, reading, and writing the language, having already mastered the phrase, "Hello, my name is Michael."
Phelps, who took some English classes in high school, said that he barely remembered anything from the courses and was struggling with grammar and syntax.
"Is verbs that hard," Phelps said during a press conference at Olympic Park, agreeing to demonstrate his refreshed knowledge after completing one disc of Rosetta Stone. "Elephant, lamp, walk, bathroom."
"Swim, swimmer," Phelps added.