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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for stopping by. I am always happy to hear from you! Please leave a comment and let me know how you feel about a post or add advice, anecdotes, etc. of your own.