language advocacy

Back from the Global Voices Summit: What Does Global Mean?

In my free time I volunteer for an online media called Global Voices. It’s a network of journalists, writers, bloggers, translators, human rights and free speech advocates who write and translate about what happens in the world, especially what we rarely hear about in the mainstream media. Obviously I can only encourage you to give it a try because it’s fantastic, and yes, I’m biased.

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.

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 interpretors 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 formed these thoughts one week after coming back home. Hey, I’m a slow thinker. Now though, I have another reason to learn a new language: not to be able to speak it, but to be able to listen to it, deeply.

Photo by me, but the real credits go to these panel members: Arabic, Zapoteco and Spanish speakers who had very profound and challenging insights to share about the way the Internet (ie our world) works.

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