Un nouveau langage, par Rich Paschall
What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language? Suppose you did not have to work at it at all. There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases. You would not have to study rules of grammar. You would not have to learn to conjugate. You would not take home lessons to write out. The language would just be there at your command. Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear. What language would you choose?
My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors. If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice. In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense. If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language? Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.
My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent. The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children. I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however. I suppose some spoke it. Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them. Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.
For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood. My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors. The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American. It was started by German immigrants who built the church. For decades there was a mass in German. I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later. I was encouraged to take Latin in high school.
This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests. There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine. We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing. Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!
Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense. The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.
Clearly, there would be a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries. I have neighbors from Guatemala nearby. There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city. There are so many cultures I could learn if I knew this one language, it seemed like a logical choice.
What is the second language of your community? Is there even a second language? Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language. Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.
In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another. While all of the above would be interesting and certainly useful, not just if I travelled to countries where these languages were spoken, but even right here in our local communities. I still have a different interest in a language I would never have thought to learn just a decade ago. Friendship has become the determining factor.
My previous job brought in interns from other countries, particularly France. As a result I made a number of friends from France and even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers. It was not just that I learned some of the culture. Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities. Of course, we talked French politics and sports. Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues. But in the process, something important happened.
Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman. We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe. I have visited his home and the home of his parents. We have visited all across Alsace. For six years, France has been on my vacation list. It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French. It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in. It is not about my grandmother. It is not about my parish. It is not about countries I may someday visit.
The language I would like to know is all about my friends. In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English. My friends and community are all French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet. Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?