From the archives………. a look back to this week last year. A dog and his mistress are rarely parted, not even when fishing is the order of the day. Maybe she was hoping to catch a dogfish?
Apropos of nothing, I was reflecting yesterday evening of one of the side benefits of the social media sites I use, Flickr and Facebook. I have noticed that more and more people hold conversations in which each uses their own language. It is not unusual to see a conversation thread consisting of more than one language. FB offers a “translate” facility, which can work reasonably well or you can just head on over to Google Translate and do it. Sadly Chinese does not yet seem to be well handled. In these cases I resort to asking my wife to interpret.
Firstly it is good to see language as a barrier being removed. Secondly it is an excellent way to help people expand their linguistic skills if they wish. Once upon a time, when Methuselah was a boy, I studied English, French, German, Latin & Russian. When he was a teenager I carried on with German and French and eventually went to live in Germany. So I appreciate the opportunity to read posts in German and French, just to keep my brain active. Sometimes I will even try to respond in one or other of the languages. Passive language skills however survive much longer than active if practice is dropped.
It is almost 40 years since I studied Russian (for two years) but a few years ago I had occasion to go to Kazakhstan for a week on business. Only a few phrases had survived from my O’level days but the people I worked with loved it that someone knew any Russian at all! So thank you, Peter Long, for managing to leave me with learnings that survived four decades. On a sad note, when I researched Peter’s name just now I found an obituary. I still have his image in my mind, a handsome young chap around 40 years old. He had a high degree of tolerance and humour. He needed both to teach me. My Latin has been dormant for many years but it does come in useful when looking at scientific names. Even the most rudimentary knowledge is helpful. Thank you, Don Sparks. And I can even do a little Italian. In Florence my wife was happy that I could ask”posso pagare con una carta di credito?”
Language is first and foremost a facilitator. I am more than happy to read English that is a bit twisted if it is sufficiently clear for me to work out the message. I don’t think Mr. Sugar Mountain intended FB to be a language school or have entry standards for posting. Even if I have to go back and check the meaning that’s fine. If I post in English to a Chinese forum (as I do) , the response will almost always be posted in Chinese. No problem. Interacting internationally requires not only but also the adoption of a little cultural sensitivity. What may be amusing to me may not be so to another. We learn by mistakes and the fundamental principle should be ‘assume good intent’. So long live FB and Flickr as lubricants of cross-border social intercourse. And do you know what Google Translate says if you input “vive la difference” and ask it to translate from French to English? Yes it gives you “vive la difference”. A case of plus ca change……..?