Benny the Irish polyglot, whose blog I've been following with amusement since my daughter recommended it to me, feels there's no excuse for not learning a foreign language or several, because we have so many opportunities to practise. Living in Ottawa, that's true; I hear different languages spoken every day without even seeking them out, and I love it. Several of our immediate neighbours are francophone. The gentlemen fitting my stair carpet last week were speaking in Arabic. The ones working on our basement talk to one another in an interesting mix of French and English. Chris introduced a Bulgarian gentleman to the Rockcliffe Flying Club last weekend and conversed with him in German. Last week I met Maria from Spain, of whom more below, and every Thursday I introduce my German speaking group (usually around 15 of us these days) to our theme of the week––16th century German painters, for instance: I showed them my Dürer book and we read about Cranach der ältere and Hans Baldung Grien.
Last Sunday we had a 1-year-old child in our house, who pointed out the birds and squirrels in Cantonese. She had already mastered a few words of English too. At the Algonquin College tour mentioned in my blog last week I met a little girl, 3 years old, who could already speak Slovak, Czech and English.
It isn't only Ottawa. On Facebook I read people's updates in Italian, German, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Filipino, Mandarin, Japanese (some of those, admittedly, with the help of Google's translation tool!). And the other day a Belgian friend had posted a short video in Flemish that I could more or less follow because of the Dutch I remember learning in the 70s.
Last night I watched a DVD in Spanish, Todo Sobre Mi Madre (una historia de mujeres ... estrenada en 1999 y ganadora del Oscar a mejor película extranjera.) The complicated plot revolves around a transvestite in Barcelona who has fathered two sons; I think it is an absolute work of art, directed by a genius. Because I've learned a bit more of the language since the first time I saw it, I got more out of it this second time, an experience so intense that although Chris came into the room in his running shorts telling me he was going out for a run (with a thunderstorm imminent), I only realised he'd been gone when he came back. Waking up in the middle of the night (during the heavy rain) I found myself trying to explain the film to myself––in Spanish! ––after which it took me a while to go back to sleep again.
Maria, mentioned in the first paragraph above, lived in Spain, Turkey, Argentina, France, Honduras and Columbia before coming here. She told our Spanish speaking group about Buenas Aires, how it is more than half Italian, and about Colombia, a country which she feels does not deserve its bad reputation, the capital, Bogotá, being a civilised city with a wonderful university. Education, she said, was the only way for the people to escape poverty, "...and they know that." From her experience of Latin American culture, she had come to realise that a family consists of a mother and her children, helped by her neighbours, the mother being the pillar (el pilar) of society. The husband / father, relatively speaking, is just a passer-by (el hombre pasa).
Maria was also an apologist for bullfighting in Spain. After all, bulls are born to fight, she said: la corrida de toros is an art form.