Monday, 25 April 2016

People don't need to live in silence

but sometimes they do.
There is a piece in our state newspaper this morning by the columnist Rex Jory. In it he talks about a trip to a remote village in Japan. Nobody spoke English there. He does not speak Japanese. He was with other people but they could not communicate. They found obtaining food and other services more expensive than they might have been if they spoke the language. Their experience frustrated them. What, Jory wanted to know, would it be like not to speak English here?
It is not quite the same thing of course. It is most unlikely that there would be no other speaker of an immigrant language somewhere. The SBS radio service will almost certainly broadcast a program in the native tongue of most Australian residents. There are numerous "multi-cultural" groups to help.  In some ways these can actually make it more difficult to learn English. Some elderly people see no reason to do so. Family will take them shopping and interpret for them at the doctor.  The bank teller might speak their language. Things will only fall apart if there is no family around - or the third generation does not speak enough Greek or Vietnamese or whatever.
But there is still a danger in all this. For years I exchanged morning greetings in Greek with an elderly man. He always seemed to be doing something in his front garden as I passed. It was never more  than "yasou" (hello) or "kalimera" (good morning) and, occasionally, "ti kanis" (how are you). 
When he died his son stopped me as I was pedalling past and told me the old man had actually waited to see me each morning. I was often the only person he spoke to all day. Not one of his neighbours spoke a word of Greek and his English was so limited they didn't try to communicate with him.
Yes, we could argue that he should have made a greater effort to learn English in an English speaking country. But he came from a small farm in Cyprus. He could barely read Greek. He was a labourer and he worked with others who spoke Greek. He had no reason to learn English, especially when his children were doing so well. He lived largely in silence.
The morning his son told me that I made the effort. I greeted my Chinese neighbour (who speaks almost no English) in Chinese. I asked the Italians how they were in Italian. I used my limited German and I "listened" while a profoundly deaf man told me he had just seen a fox. 
No, I don't speak anything but English. I never had the opportunity to learn a modern language at school. I am entirely self-taught in everything I use in my working life. I make mistakes. People correct me. They know I am trying.
I don't want to live in silence. I don't want them to live in silence.


Southern Gal said...

you are an inspiration of doing those small things that are really NOT small. what joy you gave that man and you didnt even realize it!

hope your week is easy!

catdownunder said...

the only thing it made me feel was guilty I didn't try harder

cathyc said...

Speaking as a person who is in a French area, speaking only English, I take the entire responsibility for the lack of communication between others and myself. It's up to me, I should be learning French, I'm not, my isolation is entirely my issue!

cathyc said...

PS: I do have more sympathy with women who can't speak the local language (where ever they are) as they are likely to be forced into this situation....Not speaking of myself, of course!

catdownunder said...

You Cathy are an highly intelligent and well educated person and your French is better than mine!