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  • Arturo the Bull

A historical bookmark

This week's blog post was supposed to be about those pesky cards the stewardess hands out to you right before the plane lands: arrive cards.

We couldn't set aside, though, making a comment or two about the events taking place in the East of Europe. That is, in Ukraine. We felt we had to leave a historical bookmark on our blog.

What we wanted to do vs. what we are doing

One of the reasons we created Si·La·Bul was to bring people together. Before Covid-19 became the topic we wanted to avoid talking about (after talking about it way too often for two years), our plan was to help people get together and share their experiences (and practice their language skills!). Lockdowns kind of spoiled that plan.

We shifted, then, to trying to help language learners to meet their goals of communicating with one another through telling our stories about our own struggles and achievements in overcoming difficulties brought on by language. Anyone who has studied a second (or third) language knows what I'm talking about.

Using language to separate People

Unfortunately, too many times, language becomes a symbol for people to rally around, to mark differences. This is currently a reality in the Catalonia region of Spain, where their native language, Catalan, was repressed during the 40-year dictatorship. The people of Catalonia recovered their language once democracy was established, and most of them are bilingual, speaking both Catalan and Spanish (two of the five "official" languages in Spain).

Unfortunately, again, some in Catalonia have used their language to set themselves apart. At this writing, there are court cases active concerning Spanish-speaking families wanting their kids to study in Spanish. The law in Spain indicates that at least 25% of teaching be done in Spanish; however, some Catalan schools do not offer any teaching in Spanish and refuse to obey the law.

For these people, using and speaking Catalan represents their entire culture, political thought, nation. This is partially true. A language is always deeply supported by the culture, the way of life, the food, the interactions of the people who speak it. It is sad that a people who are bilingual from childhood desire to ignore their ability to speak and think and understand in two languages, when for many it is so challenging to learn that second language.

"I won't speak Russian ever again!"

On the news the other day, I saw a report about an elderly Ukrainian man shouting at Russian troops in a village, in Russian. He was, of course, telling them to go home in their own language. Many Ukrainians have been talking to and shouting at these Russian infantrymen in their language, reminding them that they are actually able to understand each other, that no one wants this aggressive takeover to take place. The saddest part of this story was when that elderly man shouted that he would never speak Russian again.

We have to stand with the Ukrainian people, of course. Whatever languages they speak. We also should stand with the Russian people whose native language is being misused as an excuse to draw lines between individuals and societies. Russian is a curious language with sound combinations that twist the tongue. But it is also a language that, while you study it, can help you to understand how a Russian speaker sees the world. That is the understanding that will help us to stop fighting with one another.

Keep on studying!

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