A chance to become ‘Greeting Fluent’

Source: Vancouver Sun

Over the last few decades, Vancouver’s streets have filled with voices speaking more than 100 languages. For most of us the sounds seem like impenetrable babble. Although it is unlikely that any of us will become fluent in these languages, this should not deter us from discovering the treasures that they hold nor the richness of the relationships they can lead to. I believe that with a minimal amount of effort most of us can become Greeting Fluent.

Greeting Fluency can be achieved by learning at least seven simple phrases in another language. By learning even seven short phrases one can experience the sounds and structures that define a whole culture and open doors to a community of neighbours.

Vancouver has many new citizens who struggle daily in a sea of the strange sounds of English. Their mother languages are a deep part of their sense of identity with sounds that are familiar and elicit memories of another home. To have someone address them in their own native language is like the comforting sound of an old friend and can create an immediate bond.

An old saying declares that if we learn another language we will gain another soul. Every language dissects and analyzes our world in different ways. Languages can shape the way we perceive and entire value systems and traces of ancient history are embedded in them.

Perhaps the reason most English speakers don’t make an effort to speak another language is because we assume others will treat us the way we treat them. Thousands of new citizens in our community make the herculean effort daily to live their public life in our strange language. The response they get from us is impatience, a critical comment, a passing over. What a difference when an English speaker utters an awkward phrase in one of our many other languages. The eyes light up, great big smiles, gasps of joy, sometimes applause. A good reason to become Greeting Fluent is to become aware of the struggles of our neighbours and to make a gesture of solidarity to our fellow citizens.

On Thursday, Dec. 9, people will have an opportunity to explore the concept of Greeting Fluency for themselves. From noon to 1:30 p.m. seven phrases will be introduced from some of Vancouver’s most important languages — Cantonese, Punjabi and the language of the Philippines, Tagalog. Although they ultimately come from the same source they now belong to completely different language families. Punjabi belongs to the same language family as English. For example, the English f and th sounds have been changed from the more ancient p and t so while we say “father” Punjabi retains the more ancient sound of “pitar”.

These three languages could not be more different in the way they order their words. Cantonese uses the same word order as English, subject-verb-object. Punjabi uses subject-object-verb while Tagalog typically uses verb-subject-object. As an example whereas the Cantonese would say “he goes home” the Punjabi speaker would say “he home goes” while the Tagalog speaker would typically say “goes he home.”

In a multicultural community citizens are wise to make sure everyone feels included and valued. Much trouble can be avoided with a little investment in these relationships. Vancouverites have embraced the pleasures of cuisines from around the world, why not also their languages through Greeting Fluency? Learning seven simple phrases is not much more difficult than learning to use chopsticks. Imagine your experience of an exotic restaurant if you begin by greeting the proprietors in their language. I guarantee you that your service will not be lessened by such an introduction. And you, your neighbours and your city will be better for it.

Sam Sullivan is the founder of Global Civic Policy Society, recipient of the Order of Canada and former mayor of Vancouver. To enrol in Vancouver’s first Greeting Fluency session contactlzanatta@globalcivic.org.

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