14 October 2021

Bonjour, hola, konnichiwa ... say hello to Canberra's first Celebration of Languages

| Katrina Condie
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Children in traditional Greek clothing

Children from Canberra’s Greek Community Language School benefit from being multilingual. Photo: ACT Bilingual Education Alliance.

It’s all Greek to me. Or is it?

Did you know many words in the English vocabulary have been ‘borrowed’ from the Greek language?

And do you know how many different languages are spoken throughout Canberra?

You can find out all this and much more by joining the ACT’s first online Celebration of Languages on Saturday, 16 October.

Canberrans have an opportunity to learn about the many languages spoken, heard and seen in the region and the origins of languages from around the world, including our Indigenous languages.

Six different panels featuring more than 20 presenters will also share their perspectives on our multilingual city.

One of the organisers, Dr Mandy Scott from the ACT Bilingual Education Alliance, hopes the free virtual event will enthral participants and inspire them to learn a second language.

“It’s an opportunity for people of all ages to dip their toe into the world of language, and hopefully arouse their interest in learning another language,” Dr Scott said.

“People don’t realise that Canberra is a very multilingual place – one in four residents speak more than one language at home.”

The event will kick off at 10:30 am on Saturday with an official opening by the ACT Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Tara Cheyne, and continue until 3:30 pm.

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Dr Scott said people can join any discussions that interest them, with teachers, interpreters, poets and academics sharing their knowledge and stories.

“Each panel will have 30 minutes to delve into their particular topic and there will be a chance for people to ask more questions,” she said.

“It’s an opportunity to learn about the lesser-known languages in our community, such as Punjabi and Bengali, and give recognition that they’re here.

“It will also be very interesting to hear poetry spoken in Polish, Serbian and Bosnian.”

Dr Scott says people of any age can learn a second or third language, with studies showing the practice can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in older people and increase the number of brain cells in children.

Celebration of Language festival

Canberra’s first virtual Celebration of Language follows the popular Languages Showcase held as part of the National Multicultural Festival in 2020. Photo: ACT Bilingual Education Alliance.

During the first session from 11 am, Zoom in to learn about the fascinating languages and scripts from East Asia, including their non-alphabet writing systems.

From 11:45 am, learn about languages and scripts from the Indian subcontinent, including why South Asia has so many different scripts and alphabets and how all these languages interact.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language discussion from 12:30 pm will feature Ngunnawal speakers telling their local stories.

More than 200 languages are spoken in Europe, so the session from 1:30 pm is expected to be very popular as experts discuss the languages they speak and the many that can be heard on the streets of Canberra.

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Dr Scott says she’s looking forward to finding out more about how bilinguals became translators and interpreters and hearing some of their career highlights from 2:15 pm, followed by the Mother Tongue Multilingual Poetry panel at 3 pm.

“We’ll hear from three Canberra-based poets who reflect on how and why they write in their native languages,” she added.

Last year, the inaugural celebration at Gungahlin Library was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s event has been changed to a virtual celebration – again due to the pandemic – but it is expected to continue as an annual ‘real life’ event from next year.

The ACT Bilingual Education Alliance is a local non-profit community group that celebrates and promotes multilingualism in the Canberra region.

Check out the ACT Bilingual Education Alliance for more information about the program and register for a Zoom session via Eventbrite.

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It is great that so many people can speak other languages.

It is vital that we celebrate one in particular and encourage everyone to learn it: English.

One of our issues that has been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the difficulty in getting accurate information to people who do not have good English skills.

I read a news article highlighting the difficulties by detailing a situation where a man in Melbourne had to rely on his family to interpret because he didn’t speak English, despite living in Melbourne for over 20 years.

Yes, encourage people to learn other languages.

Celebrate the languages that are spoken in our wonderful city.

But please drive home the message that it is vital for people living in Australia to become proficient in English.

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