Back from the Global Voices Summit With a New Reason to Learn a New Language

Dragana Kaurin

Photo by author. “These Arabic, Zapoteco and Spanish speakers had very profound and challenging insights to share about the way the Internet (i.e. our world) works.” Used with permission. 

It’s early December, and I am back from the Summit that Global Voices organised in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I have been (mainly) translating articles from English into French for the past 3.5 years but I finally got to meet in person, for the first time, many authors whose articles I worked on. Just to have the opportunity to thank them face to face was priceless.

But for me, the week also triggered a reflexion about the concept of ‘a global world’.

We were over 100 participants from about 80 countries, including Bolivia, Palestine, Somalia, Afghanistan and Jamaica. So that would be the first thing: global means everyone. Not just everyone from the developed, Western countries. Everyone.

Corollary: when you put all these people in the same room, you simply cannot assume they will all understand English. In fact my lingua franca may not be theirs (for example I speak English but not Spanish, which would have been very convenient, and even polite). Also, even among those who can speak or understand English, fluency varies greatly.

The issue of the multiple language barriers was thoughtfully addressed throughout the event. I have attended several international conferences in my other lives, but I realized in Colombo that they had all assumed we could communicate in English. Not this one.

Photo by Raphael Tsavkko Garcia. The author (center) is standing with Global Voices contributors and translators from Guinea, Macedonia, Egypt and Greece. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Despite all the colourful slogans of our time, our world is anything but global. To live side by side is not the same as to live together. In the first instance we ignore each other, in the second we struggle and enrich ourselves and each other with our differences.

Global means to take our time: to speak slowly and simply so that everyone can have a chance to understand what you say and an opportunity to ask for a clarification. Global means to truly and patiently listen. Global means to provide interpreters when and where needed. All this so that we can finally focus on the message rather than on the messenger. Global is an exercise of respect.

Difficult? Yes. But when the effort is made…the world opens.

I have another reason to learn a new language: not to be able to speak it, but to be able to listen deeply.

Gwenaëlle Lefeuvre is a co-editor for Global Voices Lingua French. She's a physicist, dancer, blogger, and a minority language advocate at Academie Du Gallo.You can follow her on Twitter @DiffractedWord

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