I’ve just arrived Cascais, a small resort town some 30km west of Lisbon. Reflecting on a week of inspiration and mental stimulation at a conference in the lively Portuguese capital, I am enjoying this quaint and quiet town. As I stroll down its city center streets, I listen. At first, to silence. Then, I quickly realize that I hear so many more languages here than anywhere else I have been this year. Portuguese is naturally everywhere, but I also recognize Spanish, notice wonderful English accents, understand French and of course, pick out that familiar German word, genau.
I recall seeing a woman this week translate a thought leadership piece she wrote on LinkedIn from German to English. I remember being awestruck at my German friend Helen’s desire to express herself in English after our last conference experience at Bits & Pretzels last month. I recall my like-minded friend Andreas telling me he only speaks one language, Spanish, over a coffee a few weeks ago, “because neither German nor English really count”. I think of my American friend in Munich, Erica who has made communicating with Germans and translation her craft.
And I remember exactly where this admiration for those who are able to express themselves one minute in their native language and the next in English all started: when I was invited to attend a global account planning session in Munich in February 2017; although hosted by the German team, it happened in English, the international language of business.
While I am bi-lingual, I haven’t had the task to communicate in my native French in the context of my career. I emigrated from my homeland at 16, before it even started. All of my Canadian friends and many of my family members also have this skill.
Now, I am enchanted and intrigued by the layers of languages, curious about our ability to communicate, albeit our many differences even beyond language, and captivated by our similarities as humans. Beyond languages, feelings.