Language app? No, this prospect learned English through rap

May 25th, 2023
Illustration by Ben Marra

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates Minor League shortstop Liover Peguero had an informal education in English. He didn’t learn through books; he learned through beats.

“I’ve never been [to] an English class before,” said Peguero, currently ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Pirates’ No. 6 prospect. “It’s all about music. I’ve been doing it for years.”

Peguero, born in Higuey, Dominican Republic, remembers the exact moment that he fell in love with English. When Peguero was 10 years old, he heard a song by the poet formerly known as Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent.

He can’t remember which particular song he heard. Maybe it was “In Da Club.” Maybe it was “Many Men.” Maybe it was “21 Questions.” But Peguero does remember the sudden desire to master the language.

“I fell in love with the language,” Peguero said. “I remember asking my uncle, ‘What’s that language? I don’t know that language. What’s the song called? Who sings it?’ That’s how I got into it, and I went from there.”

Peguero would read, then translate, the lyrics as he listened to songs throughout his childhood and early adolescence, slowly expanding his vocabulary. Peguero joked that he tried to only remember the good words, not the expletives.

Along with 50 Cent, Peguero’s favorite rappers include Young Thug, Lil Baby and a little bit of Kodak Black. Kieran Mattison, who managed Peguero with Double-A Altoona last season, introduced Peguero to Wu-Tang Clan.

Peguero has had to navigate the nuances of the language over the years, but since hearing that first 50 Cent song, he’s had an unwavering determination to continue learning. He is now comfortable enough to conduct interviews with media in English.

“One thing I always say is when you really want something, you go for it,” said Peguero, who is currently playing for Double-A Altoona. “You be patient with it. You have to trust that you’ll get it. I feel like that was my main thing: never give up.”

Peguero recalls the exact moment when he could comfortably speak English at a conversational level. In 2017, Peguero, then still in the D-backs organization, was at Arizona’s facility in the Dominican Republic when he met fellow D-backs farmhand Pavin Smith, who was telling Peguero about what he wanted to work on.

“I was like, ‘Can I work with you? I’m trying to learn that too,’” Peguero said. “That’s when I realized, ‘Oh dang, I really got this. Look at me. Now I’m speaking it.’ That’s when I got really comfortable with it.”

And he’s not the only one in the organization who is turning to music to learn a new language. Pirates starter Roansy Contreras, born in Peralvillo, Dominican Republic, began his own journey learning English through American rap in 2018 as a prospect in the Yankees system.

He gravitated toward Travis Scott around the time the Houston-born rapper dropped his highly acclaimed album “Astroworld.” Along with Scott, Contreras has taken to Young Thug and Drake. Last season, Contreras used “Dark Knight Dummo” by Trippie Redd as his warm-up song.

“When I listen to rap music in English,” Contreras said, “I feel like I have more energy in my body.”

While Peguero has conducted interviews in English, Contreras is currently working up to that level, answering questions with the assistance of team interpreter Stephen Morales. Like Peguero, Contreras is learning English by reading and translating the lyrics as he listens to a song. In April, Contreras noted that he hopes to conduct interviews in English sometime later this season.

“It’s very different,” Contreras said. “If you learn something different every day and practice it, that helps me a lot.”