“Attend an event in a language you don’t know”
I’ve been wanting to do this since a friend of mine suggested it to me at the beginning of the month. It turns out it is pretty difficult to find an event in a language you don’t know in Toronto, when you don’t know the language or the community or where to find out about events. Films in cinemas have English subtitles, cultural events celebrating different countries are in both English and the other language (unless it’s specific to that community, but then they don’t often advertise outside of their community). I can wander around Chinatown or Little Portugal and listen to the language, but if I speak English, they will speak English back to me. I should have just invited myself over to a friend’s family’s house where they speak a different language at home and make them speak only in that language to me.
Traveling the world in my twenties I came across quite a few instances when I didn’t speak the language and had to communicate through body language or figure things out on my own. You adapt quickly to certain words or ways of saying things so you can get by. I remember sitting in a theatre in Prague for my 25th birthday, watching a play in Czech which I didn’t understand one word of, but understanding some of it through the movement (although, I’m still not quite sure why the whole audience stood up and sang at the end). One of my favourite plays ever was Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival – all in Lithuanian. It was set in the kitchens of rival pizzerias with such amazing visual imagery, it didn’t matter what the words were (although I do know the story of Romeo and Juliet already, so that helped).
Entering into a world where you can’t communicate orally definitely puts you off balance. Opposite from my experiment yesterday, I am relying almost completely on my sight to understand.
As I couldn’t find a cultural event in a different language, and had already written about Chinatown a couple of times this month, I decided to watch Cinema Paradiso – in Italian, no subtitles. It was a beautiful film and I think I figured out quite a bit of the plot without language, but there were subtleties of the story I didn’t completely get. I wanted to know what advice the older film operator was telling his younger protégé. I needed to understand why his mother was so mad at him. Was it the film like I thought? Or the burning photo like my companion thought? Sometimes I forgot it was in a different language and was caught up in the visual story. But sometimes I felt like I was trying hard, but didn’t quite grasp it all.
Everyone should at one point watch a film in a foreign language without subtitles, spend a day around people speaking another language, or try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak what you speak. It’ll give a bit more perspective to what it’s like for immigrants moving to a foreign land and trying to get by surrounded by something that sounds like gibberish. It can be really frustrating and lonely.