Nearly Four Weeks of Different Cultures

world-deafPat and I have been on a whirlwind vacation, doing a 17-day transatlantic crossing that brought us to the Azores, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, and Denmark. We have followed that with a trip via rail (rail in the US pales in comparison to European rail) from Copenhagen to visits in Berlin, Prague, and now Munich, from where I am penning this current blog.

I have a working knowledge of German, and it is being severely tested here in Munich. Unlike Berlin, Munich is much more “German” with English not spoken as widely. Munich is a magnet for many immigrants as they leave struggling neighboring countries, such as Serbia, Greece, etc. The German economy is the bedrock of the European Union, thus many come here out of necessity.

As we have made our way through several German-speaking countries, I have functioned as Pat’s interpreter in more of a tri-lingual fashion (English/German/ASL).  Needless to say, the residents of most counties we have visited often speak several languages, English often being one of them. But not so much here; not so much Munich. It has driven a point home for me: I am kind of a language snob. I figured being fluent in English and ASL made me pretty worldly in terms of linguistic ability. Not so. I may be the typical American, pretty much stuck on hold when it comes to expanding my language base. I  figured that I will be fine on this trip, as surely everyone speaks English. Most do, and while that’s good for us Americans, it doesn’t speak well for those of us who have yet to meet the world halfway in this regard. My somewhat lame attempt at brushing up on my German really isn’t good enough.

So what does this have to do with interpreting? With 360 Translations? Well, I suppose without the language gap between deaf and hearing people, I would not have a job. I work because there is the need for communication between the two language, peoples, and and cultures. The point driven home on this trip is that we expect communication to happen, and hopefully on our part we will have to exert as little effort as possible to bridge the gap. While it is unreasonable for most hearing people to learn and become fluent in ASL, as most American’s exposure to ASL is minimal. When it does happen, interpreters are there to bridge the language gap. It makes sense, and 360 Translations plays a huge part in doing this in New Jersey, Southeast Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

But as the world’s borders seem to be shrinking and blurring, it becomes more evident to me that knowing only English, as an American, is not enough. More of us should attempt, yours truly included, to pick up another language that will have utility into today’s world (Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, etc.).

On the train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, and then Berlin, a German gentleman was sitting in front of me, and he was talking loud enough that I didn’t have to strain to eavesdrop.  And what  he was saying is probably something that we American’s get tired of hearing. In German, he was saying to a girl he just met that “Americans are snobs and think they are the only civilized people in the world.” That hit a raw nerve with me, because I don’t see myself that way.  But maybe he is right. As I traveled further, and reflected back on what he said, I really do think he has a point about us Americans. True, most Americans are tired of being the world’s whipping post, but when I approached what he said with honest insight, it kind of hit home. Even training today from Prague to Munich I was struck by how clean the towns were, and how prevalent alternative energy is in the Czech Republic and other countries visited. I guess I expected them to be rubbing sticks together – I just don’t know. But I woke up. And I will continue to do so and take stock of my nationalistic thinking.

I am an interpreter by trade, and proud of that. But it is always good to broaden one’s horizons. I am thrilled to be working at 360 Translations and helping to enable people to communicate. But there is still more I can do. There is more we all can do.

My Best,

Daniel Swartz
360 Translations