Thursday, August 12, 2010

Montreal: An Adventure in Communication

Montreal is a very vibrant, lively city! We spent five days there at the end of July and really enjoyed just walking the streets, shopping, eating, riding their fabulous Metro system and just hanging out.

The biggest challenge was that the only one who spoke French in our group was our son who had four years in high school. What was wonderful was how willing people were to speak English with us, especially when they could see that we were really trying to speak French...perhaps they took pity upon us!

Along with having a lovely break from home and some quality time with my family, I found a much deeper level of compassion for those who come to the United States with very little English. Just reading a sign or a menu or buying a cup of coffee can become a major project. It is exhausting!

Had we been there longer than a week, the immersion in the culture and the language would have really started to turn things around for me and it would have gotten easier. As it was, we were willing to try and I found my vocabulary growing. Our son did a fabulous job but even he found his limitations of knowledge. I think that's the key: trying. I know I probably looked silly and my accent was atrocious, but I checked my ego at the door and chose to laugh at myself which gave the person I was attempting to talk to permission to laugh, too.

I hear a lot of people saying "This is America...we speak English here!" and I have to confess that I've felt that way on occasion but I've come to realize that it goes beyond language. We are all human. We are all in this together. We all have common ground and common bonds and we need to connect on the human level.

We need to try to meet halfway. If someone is here in the U.S. who speaks little or no English, we can still communicate. Willingness to try, laughter and a smile go a long way. It's challenging and exhausting but isn't it all about the connection?

My daughter is studying Japanese and we had the opportunity to host an exchange student from our school's sister school in Chiba, Japan (in fact, my daughter spent a week with her and her family this summer). Our house guest, a lovely sixteen-year-old girl, would light up when I would try to speak a word or two in Japanese. We spoke from the heart with smiles and hugs and mangled English and Japanese and we connected. We hugged each other and cried when our visit was over.

I made a suggestion to my family. I'm not sure it will happen, but they all liked the idea. We pick a language and get a computer program, such as Rosetta Stone, and we study the language and speak it in our home. The hardest part may be getting us to agree on a language...I'm willing to try.

Enjoy the Journey!


1 comment:

  1. So true. I remember when there was an exchange student from Japan in my high school when I was a sophomore. I don't know how the program worked (she was here for like 3 months, and they put her in a home where there was no one her age which I thought was odd). She spoke very little English yet was coming to school, she was in my Chemistry class. No one seemed to even care to try and talk to her other than me. I think she was happy to have a friend, I thought she was pretty cool herself. Within a few weeks (I just saw her for chemistry class and lunch) we had some sort of mixed Japanese-English language going only we could understand. I couldn't speak that way now if I tried but it became fun in a way to have our own secret language just the two of us understood!