Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our Polyglot World

We had gone to the city to do a little shopping. Everywhere we went we were wafted along on waves of conversations in Spanish. We eavesdropped (inconspicuously, of course) and enjoyed the lilting sound of words we didn’t understand.

After shopping, we went to a favorite restaurant for lunch. Waiting for our order to be brought, we entertained ourselves by trying to read the Vietnamese words on the menu describing the various dishes. Again, we understood almost none of the words on the page before us. We found it interesting, however, to observe ways in which that language was different from – and similar to – our own.

Returning home on a warm sunny day, I decided to tone up my tan beside the pool. I settled myself comfortably on a chaise lounge in full sun and pulled my broad-brimmed hat over my face to protect my eyes from the Texas glare.

As the solar heat-treatment baked some of the aches out of my muscles and cooked all useful thoughts out of my mind, I began to listen to the sounds around me. I was hearing snatches of various conversations around the pool. Many were in English, others in French, one or two in German, and another in Holland-Dutch.

I realized then that we live in a polyglot neighborhood, a multilingual community! Living side by side, we all manage to communicate with each other even though we come from many different language groups! Some of us try to learn a few words of greeting in our neighbor’s language or ask about varying customs or social attitudes in their countries. Occasionally, the entire community is invited to share in some culinary delicacy of a distant land we may never be able to visit.

Flags of several different countries flutter in the same Texas breeze in our park. They remind us – and all who visit – how boring life would be if we were all alike, as individuals and as nations.

Now, I’ll admit that all is not peace and harmony around here all the time! We’ve had several interpersonal squabbles in our winter retreat of many languages. But, in each case, the conflict arose between people of the same mother tongue! It was people – not different languages – that created the problem.

I wish that the broader world might learn what we are experiencing. If only we could replace our suspicion with respect for one who speaks a different tongue, we might expand our horizons and learn exciting things about our world. If we were able to celebrate what people share in common rather than to fear the ways we are different, we could discover that it’s fun to live in a world of many languages! Could we learn to enjoy it so much that we’d want to study a second language and become polyglots ourselves?