Lost and Found in Translation

This particular headline has been popping up on my FaceBook news feed all evening.  And it is why I am still awake at this hour, writing this blog post for all of you.  In the sprit of this post, if you want translations of the paragraphs that are not in your language of preference, let me know.  It might take a couple of days to get it posted, but if I have to make this entire thing totally bilingual for you, I will.

(NB:  No translators, Internet or Human, were used in this blog post.  Any glaring mistakes are mine and mine alone, but please let me know so that I can improve.  Especially since I tend to offer unsolicited corrections to mistakes made in English.)

***

You could probably say I’m used to knowing what it’s like being one of the “others.”  As the youngest child of an immigrant family from Southeast Asia, I grew up as a visible ethnic minority.  I was terribly conscious of the fact that I was not blonde and blue-eyed (and, to add insult to injury, for the longest time I had the Asian-child bowl cut as well).  My daily nourishment was food my schoolmates considered gross and inedible because it wasn’t red meat, two veg, and potatoes, but strange, smelly, saucy concoctions of seafood, pork, and chicken served with mountains of rice.  (Some of you might think that’s actually pretty cool, but most six-year-olds I know wouldn’t agree.  See the problem I had as one?)

And I actually spoke flawless English and read at a higher reading level than what was available in my elementary school’s library – but because I’m a visible minority, it was believed that I ought to be put into ESL classes anyway.  (Luckily, my oldest brother was made the guinea pig for this, and after literally making an afternoon of the entire ESL course, he – and by extension, I too – was deemed to be in good English standing and allowed to remain in the normal curriculum.)  But, little did I know — this was the first of many challenging experiences I would have in my life regarding language.

À huit ans, j’ai eu ma première expérience avec la langue française.  Madame Crockett, ma maîtresse pour la troisième année, était une francophone bilingue qui a eu le désir à amener sa langue maternelle à tous ses étudiants.  Avec elle, j’ai commencé un grand voyage:  d’apprendre une nouvelle langue.  Tout au long de l’école primaire, j’ai pris des cours de francais avec Madame Crockett.

Avant que je continue, je veux vous informer que les cours qui sont disponible pour les écoles primaires à la Colombie-Britannique sont très simple.  En fait, le programme pour les cours au niveau primaire est répétitif et on doit attendre pour l’école secondaire d’apprendre plus que les choses de base (comme les conversations brèves, les chiffres, les couleurs, le calendrier, etc).  Mais tous les écoliers ont l’opportunité à prendre les cours de français à partir de leurs jeunesses.  Donc, mes parents – qui parlent chez nous en anglais et aussi dans la langue philippine – ont pris la décision que ses enfants parlent dans les deux langues officiels du Canada.

Because we were not in Early French Immersion but rather in a totally Anglophone primary school, my brothers and I all had to wait until we were thirteen and in grade eight to begin Late French Immersion.  This program lasted four years, during which we all took at least four of our eight required subjects in French (and in which we all excelled).  After taking an extra regular French course in my senior year to have another Provincial Exam under my belt for university admissions requirements, my classroom education in French was neatly tied up in a final grade of 96% given to me by the provincial government.  I was then accepted to Concordia University in Montréal, and I moved from British Columbia to Québec with a lot of optimism.  I would be going to an English university, but I would be living in a French city.  I would actually get to use the language I’d been learning in school.

However, upon landing here I found a fly in that honey.  You see, Late French Immersion had prepared me best to read, write, and – to a much lesser extent – listen in French..but as far as speaking was concerned, most of what we’d done had been scripted.  That included most of our oral exams, as we were given several questions to prepare ahead of time (and then we’d only have to answer a few of them).  I did not have much by way of ability to speak in French when I arrived in Montréal, and learning to understand it when it was being spoken to me at the speed of an animated chipmunk was a challenge unto itself.  And for the first two years of my life in Montréal, I actually lost more French than I gained simply because most of the Francophones I met would switch to English because “this way, it’s easier for everyone.” (These people then became the ones who would relentlessly rag on me, demanding to know why I “hadn’t yet made an effort.”)

Mais en 2011, une poste dans un environnement francophone m’a donné des nouveaux collègues et amis qui ont remarqué (dans une manière positive) sur mes faiblesses. Malgré la barrière de la langue, ces gens francophones au travail m’ont aidé beaucoup à améliorer mes compétences et à gagner la confiance à communiquer dans une deuxième langue.  Je me souviens une expérience sur la plancher du magasin quand j’ai eu beaucoup des difficultés avec un client qui était un francophone militant (en plus, il était très impatient).  Par miracle, j’ai complété la transaction toute seule avec succès, mais l’expérience m’a laissé découragée et frustrée.

Deux jours plus tard, j’ai pris la bouffe avec un ami, Félix Antoine.  On a discuté la question de la langue pendant qu’on mangé, et quand je lui ai dis de l’expérience que j’ai décrit en haut, il m’arrêté:  “Je t’ai entendu, Angela, quand tu as parlé avec les clients francophones sur le plancher.  Tu as plus des compétences que tu penses.”

So, I hear you ask, what’s my point?

Yes, one culture can point out what’s wrong with the other. Yes, we can all argue that neither side is perfect and that both sides have much room to improve. These are truths about the society in which we, as residents of Québec, live and work and study.  But if we spend all of our time bickering with one another about language and culture, we will all miss the opportunities we have in this unique province to learn and grow together.  It’s the little things that bolster us and motivate us to continue.  There is so much more to be said about acknowledgement of effort and continuous encouragement than of shortcomings and closed-minded criticism.

À tous mes amis francophones qui m’a aident avec l’amélioration en ma deuxième langue:  je vous remercie beaucoup.  C’est grâce à vous que j’étais motivé d’écrire ce blog aujourd’hui.  Et pour ceux d’entre vous qui m’a demandé pour l’aide avec l’anglais, c’est toujours un plaisir.  Quand on partage la connaissance et les compétences, quand on peut reconnaître les opportunités pour l’amitié au milieu des différences — on peut vivre.


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