Saturday, October 16, 2021

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Foreign Language

If you grew up with the feeling that you ought to be beguiling princes of foreign lands in their own tongue, climbing mountains while conversing in Tibetan or German, or weaving with the sisters of an island encircled by sky-blue water while speaking fluent Greek, you will connect with this feeling. We make the daunting, vast world smaller and more real by speaking each other's languages. Language is the last frontier we get to conquer. Desire for connection is a basic human value, and even anglophones feel its lack at times. 


It is odd, being a native speaker of the one language that can usually get you in and out of most situations across the globe. It is a point I have dwelt on for years, even at the age of seventeen and interested in U.S. foreign policy. I decided to become a "youth ambassador" with the Rotary in France. I also planned on having a ball while doing it, but what teen does not?

If free speech is a right, then it follows that you have the right to express yourself in another language, and perhaps a duty as well. 

Maybe I am guilty of curiosity; I want to know what everyone else is really saying, or it could be that I like to talk too much, and the barrier of a different language just slows me down to a degree of frustration I cannot accept. This explains my choice of professions; when I write, no one is there to stop me, when I interpret, I speak at least twice as much as anyone else in the room; from English to French back to English again.

I find it interesting that to my bilingual husband, the idea of learning another language did not hold the same appeal or thrill of the exotic. After all, he grew up in a scholastic environment that had obligatory foreign language requirements. Everyone took English and Latin, then branched out into Spanish, German and more. His very ability to communicate with his in-laws and the country of adoption depends on the fact that he learned English so well, and yet, there is no magic about it at all. Perhaps if French had been presented in the same way we were taught Algebra, I might feel the same way.

The truth, in my book? I never dreamed of meeting someone in any remotely romantic (in any sense of the word) situation and conversing with them in algebraic formulae. I just can't quite fathom that the above theory holds any water, nor could I calculate how many gallons or liters that might be, but I could tell you "excuse me!" for spilling it all over your feet in a seven or eight languages, charmingly.

The heroes in my world are my friends who sing in 52 languages (here again for Esperanto), raise their babies in two languages, or lead international conferences on the topics of peace, the profession and interpreting, judiciary translation and interpreting, or simply give another language a go to get a little closer to their dream of making someone else feel at home in this big, big, small world.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

When Love Meets Art: Lana March Interview on French Please

I just spent the day with an extraordinary human. I feel more likely to be loving, to appreciate beauty, to honor the true in each person in my life, to explore art in new ways, listen to more music work on my French grammar. 

This is a feat, and I want you to have the opportunity to hear her in the interview we just completed as well; Lana March, poet, artist, photographer who has chosen the light in all aspects of her life. The podcast will be out this week. Bring some joy to your day, your life, and listen in. 


Lana grew up in Paris, where at the age of six, she heard a voice tell her she was to learn English. She taught herself the language, entirely on her own, until it was finally offered at school in sixth grade. Her teacher was astonished by both her proficiency in a foreign language and the writing talent she possessed in French. She never stopped writing.

Her childhood was a miserable one and she left France as soon as she possibly could, but one day she returned and recreated the City of Light to be the enlightened, beautiful place she knew it could be. She has made her home in California now for many years, but she has traveled far and wide and called Australia home at one point. She agreed to be my guest, my first guest, brave woman, on our podcast, to speak of language, art, music 

As a final gift, Lana read us one of her poems that navigates gracefully, as she does, between English and French. It was a marvelous conversation. 

You can find it on Wednesday on French Please, the podcast we publish that you can hear wherever you like to listen. Today's episode was an interview with my darling husband on his life and languages.