by Gina Sestak
When I was a little girl, I aspired to be a translator at the United Nations. I imagined myself fluent in French, Russian, Chinese, whatever the situation called for. My father, after all, despite having only a 9th-grade education, could manage to communicate in many languages. He had grown up speaking Hungarian at home, Slovak in the neighborhood, and English in school. An uncle by marriage, Sicilian by birth, had emigrated to the US in childhood and gotten a job where he came in contact with Polish co-workers. He and my father would throw phrases at one another in at least a dozen languages, each trying (without success) to stump the other. Alas, I seem to have missed out on that portion of my father's genes. I have absolutely no facility for languages.
That isn't for lack of trying. I took years of Latin and French in high school and, although my comprehension of written French was good enough to exempt Pitt's foreign language requirement, I took one semester each of Spanish and Russian, not to mention a course in French literature. I can't speak any of those languages. I tried do-it-yourself courses to teach myself Greek and Danish in preparation for trips to Greece and Denmark. No luck. For the past several months I've been taking a French class, hoping I'd be able to communicate a little during my recent trip to Montreal for a conference on dreams. Luckily, I ran into another attendee who spoke French and handled the conversation with our Haitian taxi driver.
Still, I decided to attend at least one lecture in French, just to see whether or not I could follow it. I chose Odyssee d'Homere et voyage interieur. The catalogue described it as: Au cours de cet atelier, nous ferons l'experience d'une approche dans laquelle nos propres reves, les mythes et les evenements de notre quotidien creent un fascinant jeu de miroirs qui nous revelent a nous-memes. L'Odysee d'Homere sera utilisee comme metaphore de la quete spirituelle et nous guidera dans notre proper voyage de retour a Soi. I took this to mean that the quest for
self-understanding would be explored through the familiar tale of the Odyssey. That was, in fact, what the lecture was about. I think. I really was able to follow some of the written materials. I recognized the PowerPoint map as being the Eastern Mediterranean. The lecture itself, though -- I only caught the occasional word. My internal translation ran something like:
Ullyses and his companions (French French French French French) the sea (French French French) wind (French French French French French French French French) Ithaca.
I sat in the back of the room and, whenever the lecturer would look up, inviting audience participation, I would hide behind the person in front of me. Still, I'm glad I went.
What about you? Do you speak and/or understand any languages other than English?