“Are you blogging?!”
Patricia busted me right in the middle of Nederlands 1.2; I was taking notes on the confusion, even in the official language course, between languages. We are not being taught the local Flemish dialect, although Flemish versions sometimes appear in the midst of the officially-sanctioned Dutch. A French word had appeared on a worksheet instead of the Dutch term and the teacher drew our attention to it: this has happened before – not too often, but occasionally. I imagine that this is exactly how the languages are mixed in everyday use outside of the classroom.
Five of us from Cursus Nederlands 1.1 survived to 1.2 in the same classroom, same schedule, with the same stellar teacher. Six if Amin gets his act together and registers! Mahmoud got a job, Bouchra and Tolu have left us for higher levels – following Marse who is so far beyond us now we are lucky to get glimpses of her in the school cafeteria. 🙂 I am still celebrating the small miracle of passing the level one test!
My struggle with learning Dutch (“very hard for Americans,” says virtually everyone) is somewhat similar to the experience of being on the outside of a conversation in a language I don’t know, as occurred several times last week in Strasbourg. Usually the other language was French – and I am reminded of the strategic decision last summer to start learning French, and then the practical choice of choosing Dutch because my residence in Antwerp enabled me less-expensive access to high quality intensive lessons. Not that I’ve been able to take full advantage of the lessons – I may be lucky to consistently attend 1/3 sessions per week this term. During pessimistic moods, I wonder if I was wrong to have prioritized the lessons over tramping the halls of Parliament last fall.
The social (and socializing) function of being with my fellow students in the cursus Nederlands, however, is vital for my sanity. Some of it is pure silliness, such as learning that Topi wears insulated socks (!), and some is wonder at the diversity of human experiences represented by our particular biographies. Marinella, for instance, saw the world as a youngster doing competitive sportshooting before moving from Bulgaria to South Africa for 19 years prior to her arrival here in Belgium.
I also admire the curriculum, and the ways Anne delivers it. Level 1.2 zeros in on two crucial skills: listening and grammar. I was annoyed and grudgingly impressed by the audiotrack we listened to (for answers to fill-in-the-blank questions on a handout) for including a low-level music background track. It was totally distracting – which forces you to concentrate while mimicking life in the real world, where there is always background noise of one form or another. As for the grammar, well, Topi was elegant as usual: “Dat is speciaal.” Patricia agreed, “Moelijk!” The entire array of language-learning services is impressive. Amin was very excited about all the resources he had learned about from Atlas, a social service organization whose mandate is to facilitate the acculturation of immigrants into Belgian society. (He enjoyed his appointment with Natalie, especially her enthusiasm.)
In terms of the research project that brings me to Belgium, having one foot in the community of everyday people and the other in the elite reaches of European governance helps me maintain a holistic perspective on the research objectives. How do attitudes and experiences with simultaneous interpretation serve as a lens for comprehending the role of language in Europe today? Is it possible to locate and describe how present-day policies and practices may play out over time? I believe it is possible to make some predictions, because the information about how current policies are affecting current practices are readily available – if we choose to recognize them.
Or are perceptually attuned to recognize them – which is the first matter of concern. Not only am I experiencing the limitations of my own mind to take in and process new information, but I am also observing non-verbal and discursive evidence of other people’s inability to either perceive or process new information. For instance, as I talk with Members (of the European Parliament), I am struck by how few of them have ever considered the system of simultaneous interpretation beyond echoing the usual litany of complaints and de rigueur compliments. It is not that they are un-thoughtful, far from it! Their responses when I question the practical realism of the expectations that inspire complaining are quite insightful. But some of the ideas I pose are outside their areas of knowledge – most of them simply admit this (a candor I find appealing and hopeful), some smaller percentage gamely go on along a path I find minor or tangential to my primary point (but nearly always in sync with a concern the Member had previously expressed), and a very few carry on in a way that leads me to suspect they are unaware that another way of thinking is possible.
I do not believe this is a matter of intelligence, at least not in most cases. I think it is a function of (lack of) exposure to different discourses. There seems to be only way to talk about simultaneous interpreting in the European Parliament; other ways of talking elicit responses ranging from curiosity to dismissal, from intrigue to risk – as if talking about interpreting is, in-and-of-itself, a threat.
Anyway, as other friends and I discussed last night, I have neither a magic blue diamond nor a genie to wish worries of “bad karma” away, only the goodwill of friends and those who do sense some value in the knowledge I seek to construct, even if my manner is clumsy as hell.
“Are you blogging?!”