Tvetanka Panova, Partnership Project Manager for the British Council in Bulgaria, reflects on the European Day of Languages 2011 in Sofia and the love of languages that it revealed.
Deutsch, English, Español, Italiano, Polski, Schweiz, Suisse, Svizzera, Русский, Magyar, Français, česky, Ελληνικά… there was a constant buzz of voices speaking different languages on the square on Sunday 2 October, and yet nobody was lost in translation. Symbolically located in front of Bulgaria’s National Theatre named after the great writer and poet Ivan Vazov, the celebration of the European Day of Languages 2011 was even grander and more successful than the previous year. The event was once again organised by EUNIC – the network of European Union National Institutes for Culture – and this time brought together 16 institutions representing 11 languages amidst TV cameras and radio microphones, government officials, specially invited visitors and passers-by.
So there we all were on the sunny morning of 2 October – the tents were busy with people even before the official opening. Thousands of materials were gone and had to be restocked constantly. Young children and adults were speaking to the staff members at the various language stalls – about courses in Bulgaria, about studying abroad, about cultural events and collaborations, or just picking up new words in foreign languages.
And they had to – pick up words, I mean. If they wanted a prize they had to earn it by… solving crossword puzzles! Now THERE’s Babelfor you – to solve it you’d have to find out what’s an anniversary in Italian and a bun in Russian, memory in Greek and an apple in Hungarian. No – this is no joke! The crossword puzzle demonstrated the power of multilingualism in action – at first glance impossible, it brought together all languages and scripts into a single list of words that – together – vertically read a popular Bulgarian proverb. It was so exciting to see young and old pouring over the puzzle, visiting language stall after the other to find out the exact spelling or pronunciation of some word, standing in groups and heatedly arguing about the exact connotation of similar words across different languages… And you’d really think it was all for the prizes! Well – if that were the case we wouldn’t have seen several people approach much later, when we had already finished the event and were putting our stuff away, and just want to hand in their solved puzzle out of pride of their personal victory rather than to collect anything for it!
And as if solving multilingual puzzles wasn’t enough, we also had readings of proverbs in different languages. To some they felt like tongue-twisters and yet people kept piling at the entrance to the stage to try their hand (or should I say, mouth) at “Words cut more than swords”, “Die Sprache sei die Wünschelrute, die gedankliche Quellen findet”, “Annyit ér az ember, ahány nyelvet beszél”, „Koniec języka za przewodnika”…
And then there were the country presentations – each centre had prepared a 15-minute programme highlighting the beauty of its language in a variety of forms. Some brought out the choir of their bilingual school who offered a selection of the best Italian lively songs, others had invited high school students to recite poetry, or translate the lyrics to famous opera arias. We even had reggae singers who came to say that English is not just about the standard UK accent but could vary to include the lovely melody of the Jamaican Patois and Rastafarian culture.
Judging from the amount of people who visited our event throughout the day (we estimate about 3,500) and took part in each and every of its multiple activities, Babel is not a problem for young people. They are eager to learn and use foreign languages, they are open to the cultures that they represent and they understand that your democratic freedom of speech must go hand in hand with proficiency of language – whatever language, the more – the better.
Neither is it a problem for the institutions. A phone call from the Human Resources Development Centre one day in early September recaps the motivation of the various institutions to take part. The HRDC is involved, among other things, in projects encouraging language studies as a career opportunity. They had seen the extensive media coverage of the celebration we organised in 2010 and had regretted they hadn’t known about it. So they set on a mission to find our how they might get involved in 2011. To the day they phoned the British Council who’d been leading on the Sofia EUNIC cluster for the past couple of years and respectively had led the organisation of the events as part of our programme in multilingualism. Now who wouldn’t love this – to get phone calls from partners eager to contribute to an even better event!
In conclusion, if this is the trend, this means that next year in 2012 we will be celebrating the European Day of Languages in 12 languages. Or more?
The European Day of Languages in Sofia was organised by the local branch of EUNIC – the network of European Union National Institutes for Culture, and in 2011 included: Austrian embassy, British Council, the Czech Centre, Polish Institute, French Institute, Goethe Institute, Hellenic Foundation of Culture, Hungarian Cultural institute, Instituto Cervantes, Embassy of Spain, Italian Cultural Institute as well as our partners from the Russian Cultural Centre, the Embassy of Switzerland, the Directorate General for Translation at the European Commission, Bulgarian Cultural Institute, Human Resource Development Centre.