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Chris Slatter

My Blog


A Tower of Babel

Tags: france languages 


Rune of the Day : Mannaz, the Self
What is the essence of Europe? It’s languages, specifically 230 of them and
if you want success in Europe then you’d better learn one or two - three
would be better.
The place where I work is a Tower of Babel. It’s a television
broadcaster which transmits in ten languages and there are people here who can
go seamlessly from English to Russian to Portuguese and Spanish and then, of course,
to French because we all live in Lyon where the station is based.
One of the requirements for employees is that they must speak at least one language
other than their own. But how do they learn three or four languages? Part of the reason
is down to television.
A Portuguese journalist told me he learned English watching
Disney cartoons broadcast in their original version with subtitles. A Romanian
journalist told me the same story. But what about the Russians? And, before you ask, how does that account for the multi-lingual Italians who work here?
In Italy, every film and TV programme of foreign origin has been lip-synced into Italian since Mussolini. In any case, the films and TV programmes they watch are predominantly in English, so how do they learn the other two or three languages which most of them speak?
It’s a matter of much shame for the English journalists, many of whom even struggle with French, as do I. With so many cultures mixed together I’ve often thought that my work place would make a wonderful sociological study, a world in microcosm. Here, Russians marry Spaniards, Algerians marry Spaniards, too, while Germans marry Portuguese and, of course, the English marry the French.
Their children grow up speaking two languages fluently and will probably add a third and fourth by the time they graduate from university. There is a linguistic gene that is mostly missing from the English-speaking genome, I tell myself in one of those self-serving rationalisations that help you explain away shortcomings like not being able to dance, or still being a virgin when you’re thirty. Neither of these refer to me, of course. But skill with languages, I have to admit, is not my thing.
So, can I call myself a European in the cultural sense? Not yet, but as the Chinese say, ‘the oxen are slow, but the earth is patient’.

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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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