I’m becoming my mother in the most unexpected way

baby swallows.jpg

It seems I’m in French withdrawal. 

My first weekend back in New York, I went to lunch with my parents and we had a francophone waiter. I knew this not because he spoke anything less than the most perfect English with us, but because I overheard him conversing with his colleague in French by the cash register. Despite telling myself sternly, “Do not be that person, Ruth” some ineffable force compelled me to switch into French and ask him where he was from. Congo, apparently, and his colleague was from Senegal.

Since then, there’s been the father and his two kids on the subway, the vacationing couple at the restaurant in Hanoi, the retirees on the ferry in Hong Kong, the woman looking for a street downtown, the man watching his kids play in Central Park… Every time I hear anyone speak French – or even English with a French accent – I wrack my brain for a way to break into their conversation, en français, without seeming too desperate. Many times I can’t find one, and I am able to keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, my tongue disobeys my brain and follows my heart into the most awkward exchanges. Without fail, I feel silly about it, yet I keep doing it anyway.

I used to be mortified whenever my mother, a Brooklynite who moved to Israel in her 20’s and returned to the States in her 30’s, would butt in on strangers’ conversations after she overheard them speaking Hebrew. We’d be in the middle of the English-speaking world – a mall in New Jersey or a cafe in New York – and this native English speaker would find any excuse to say something to the Israelis in Hebrew. It always seemed that my introverted mother did this not because she truly wanted to engage with other human beings but because she wanted validation of her identity in the kin group. No matter what she said to them, all I ever heard was a pathetic, “Wink wink, I’m one of you!”

Now that I have caught myself pulling the same stunt on multiple occasions, I think of it a little differently. 

I suppose there is a small part of me that has something to prove: that I can still speak the language, or that I belong with the foreigners in my midst. But most of it has nothing to do with pride (which is good because there is nothing ego-boosting about sounding like a complete dope). Instead, the overpowering desire to speak French comes from…wanting to speak French. I have so few opportunities  these days that when I see one, I can’t pass it up.

I don’t really miss France, but I really, really miss French. It’s a beautiful language, and I love it. I guess my mother feels the same way about Hebrew.

So to that I say,

!כל הכבוד*

*Kol hakavod, i.e., “All the honor,” i.e., You go, girl!

[Photo: Rithban]

One thought on “I’m becoming my mother in the most unexpected way

  1. PUBLICATION NOTICE: Greetings! Since retiring from the UN in 2007 I have been working to strengthen international communication by writing and lecturing. Now I am pleased to announce the publication of my second book on multilingual communication, Essays on Conference Interpreting, starting from a hopeful vision of digital humanism in our future as envisaged by Nikola Tesla, offering a perspective on multilingualism as a prism that widens humankind’s prospects rather than artificially narrowing their focus. This book condenses important lessons learned at key points during a 30-year career as an intergovernmental conference interpreter and trainer, seeking to define what constitutes good interpreting and how to develop the skills and, abilities that are conducive to it, as well as fostering practices and technologies that help to maintain high professional standards. It highlights the importance of English as a global lingua franca and as a relay language used in multilingual events and institutions. The book places interpreting in its historical context as a time-honored discipline and discusses the effect of modern technology on translating and interpreting, identifying areas where it is most useful (electronic communications media, broadcasting) while stressing that professional education and training of linguists are more important than reliance on technological shortcuts. It is a valuable resource to all those working or training in interpreting and related forms of cross-cultural communication.

    AVIS DE PUBLICATION : Salutations ! Depuis ma retraite de l’ONU en 2007, je travaille au renforcement de la communication internationale par l’écriture, la formation et les conférences. J’ai maintenant le plaisir d’annoncer la publication de mon deuxième livre sur la communication multilingue, Essays on Conference Interpreting, partant d’une vision humaniste du numérique dans notre avenir, tel qu’envisagé par Nikola Tesla, offrant une perspective sur le multilinguisme comme un prisme qui élargit les perspectives de l’humanité plutôt que de restreindre artificiellement leur champ d’action. Ce livre condense les leçons importantes apprises à des moments clés au cours d’une carrière de 30 ans en tant qu’interprète de conférence intergouvernemental et formateur, cherchant à définir ce qui constitue une bonne interprétation et comment développer les compétences et les capacités qui y sont propices, ainsi que favoriser des pratiques et des technologies qui aident à maintenir des normes professionnelles élevées. Il souligne l’importance de l’anglais comme lingua franca mondiale et comme langue relais utilisée dans les événements et les institutions multilingues. Le livre replace l’interprétation dans son contexte historique en tant que discipline séculaire et discute de l’effet de la technologie moderne sur la traduction et l’interprétation, identifiant les domaines où elle est la plus utile (médias de communication électronique, radiodiffusion) tout en soulignant que l’éducation et la formation professionnelles des linguistes sont plus importants que le recours à des raccourcis technologiques. C’est une ressource précieuse pour tous ceux qui travaillent ou se forment à l’interprétation et aux formes connexes de communication interculturelle.

    VERÖFFENTLICHUNGSHINWEIS: Grüße! Seit meinem Ausscheiden aus der UNO im Jahr 2007 arbeite ich daran, die internationale Kommunikation durch Schreiben und Lehren zu stärken. Nun freue ich mich, die Veröffentlichung meines zweiten Buches über mehrsprachige Kommunikation, Essays on Conference Interpreting, ankündigen zu können, ausgehend von einer hoffnungsvollen Vision des digitalen Humanismus in unserer Zukunft, wie sie von Nikola Tesla ins Auge gefasst wurde und eine Perspektive auf Mehrsprachigkeit als Prisma bietet, das die Perspektiven der Menschheit erweitert human anstatt ihren Fokus künstlich einzuengen. Dieses Buch fasst wichtige Erkenntnisse aus den wichtigsten Punkten einer 30-jährigen Karriere als Dolmetscher und Ausbilder für zwischenstaatliche Konferenzen zusammen und versucht zu definieren, was gutes Dolmetschen ausmacht und wie man die dafür förderlichen Fähigkeiten und Fähigkeiten entwickelt und Praktiken fördert. und Technologien, die helfen, hohe professionelle Standards aufrechtzuerhalten. Es unterstreicht die Bedeutung des Englischen als globale Verkehrssprache und als Relaissprache, die in mehrsprachigen Veranstaltungen und Institutionen verwendet wird. Das Buch stellt das Dolmetschen in seinen historischen Kontext als altehrwürdige Disziplin und diskutiert die Auswirkungen moderner Technologie auf das Übersetzen und Dolmetschen, indem es Bereiche identifiziert, in denen es am nützlichsten ist (elektronische Kommunikationsmedien, Rundfunk) und betont, dass die professionelle Aus- und Weiterbildung von Linguisten wichtiger als das Vertrauen auf technologische Abkürzungen. Es ist eine wertvolle Ressource für alle, die im Dolmetschen und verwandten Formen der interkulturellen Kommunikation arbeiten oder sich ausbilden.

    AVISO DE PUBLICACIÓN: ¡Saludos! Desde que me retiré de la ONU en 2007, he estado trabajando para fortalecer la comunicación internacional escribiendo y dando conferencias. Ahora me complace anunciar la publicación de mi segundo libro sobre comunicación multilingüe, Essays on Conference Interpreting (Ensayos sobre interpretación de conferencias), partiendo de una visión esperanzadora del humanismo digital en nuestro futuro, tal como lo concibió Nikola Tesla, ofreciendo una perspectiva sobre el multilingüismo como un prisma que amplía las perspectivas de la humanidad en lugar de limitar artificialmente su enfoque. Este libro condensa lecciones importantes aprendidas en puntos clave durante una carrera de 30 años como intérprete de conferencias intergubernamentales y formador, buscando definir qué constituye una buena interpretación y cómo desarrollar las destrezas y habilidades que la favorecen, así como las prácticas y tecnologías que ayudan a mantener altos estándares profesionales. Destaca la importancia del inglés como lengua franca global y como lengua de transmisión utilizada en eventos e instituciones multilingües. El libro sitúa la interpretación en su contexto histórico como una disciplina consagrada y analiza el efecto de la tecnología moderna en la traducción y la interpretación, identificando las áreas donde es más útil (medios de comunicación electrónica, radiodifusión) al tiempo que destaca que la educación profesional y la formación de lingüistas son más importantes que depender de atajos tecnológicos. Es un recurso valioso para todos aquellos que trabajan o se están capacitando en interpretación y formas relacionadas de comunicación intercultural.

    AVVISO DI PUBBLICAZIONE: Saluti! Da quando mi sono ritirato dalle Nazioni Unite nel 2007 ho lavorato per rafforzare la comunicazione internazionale scrivendo e tenendo conferenze. Ora sono lieto di annunciare la pubblicazione del mio secondo libro sulla comunicazione multilingue, Essays on Conference Interpreting, partendo da una visione speranzosa dell’umanesimo digitale nel nostro futuro come previsto da Nikola Tesla, offrendo una prospettiva sul multilinguismo come prisma che amplia le prospettive dell’umanità piuttosto che restringere artificialmente la loro attenzione. Questo libro condensa importanti lezioni apprese nei punti chiave di una carriera trentennale come interprete e formatore di conferenza intergovernativa, cercando di definire cosa costituisce una buona interpretazione e come sviluppare le competenze e le abilità che vi sono favorevoli, oltre a promuovere pratiche e tecnologie che aiutano a mantenere elevati standard professionali. Sottolinea l’importanza dell’inglese come lingua franca globale e come lingua di trasmissione utilizzata in eventi e istituzioni multilingue. Il libro colloca l’interpretazione nel suo contesto storico come disciplina consacrata dal tempo e discute l’effetto della tecnologia moderna sulla traduzione e sull’interpretazione, identificando le aree in cui è più utile (mezzi di comunicazione elettronici, radiodiffusione) e sottolineando che l’istruzione e la formazione professionale dei linguisti sono più importante della dipendenza da scorciatoie tecnologiche. È una risorsa preziosa per tutti coloro che lavorano o si formano nell’interpretazione e nelle relative forme di comunicazione interculturale.

    AVISO DE PUBLICAÇÃO: Saudações! Desde que me aposentei da ONU em 2007, tenho trabalhado para fortalecer a comunicação internacional escrevendo e dando palestras. Agora, tenho o prazer de anunciar a publicação do meu segundo livro sobre comunicação multilíngue, Ensaios sobre interpretação de conferências, partindo de uma visão esperançosa do humanismo digital em nosso futuro, como previsto por Nikola Tesla, oferecendo uma perspectiva sobre o multilinguismo como um prisma que amplia as perspectivas da humanidade em vez de estreitar artificialmente seu foco. Este livro condensa importantes lições aprendidas em pontos-chave durante uma carreira de 30 anos como intérprete de conferências intergovernamentais e instrutor, buscando definir o que constitui uma boa interpretação e como desenvolver as habilidades que conduzem a ela, bem como práticas e tecnologias que ajudam a manter altos padrões profissionais. Ele destaca a importância do inglês como uma língua franca global e como uma língua de retransmissão usada em eventos e instituições multilíngues. O livro coloca a interpretação em seu contexto histórico como uma disciplina consagrada pelo tempo e discute o efeito da tecnologia moderna na tradução e interpretação, identificando áreas onde ela é mais útil (meios de comunicação eletrônica, radiodifusão), enquanto enfatiza que a educação profissional e o treinamento de lingüistas são mais importante do que confiar em atalhos tecnológicos. É um recurso valioso para todos aqueles que trabalham ou treinam em interpretação e formas relacionadas de comunicação intercultural.

    УВЕДОМЛЕНИЕ ОБ ИЗДАНИИ: Приветствую! После ухода из ООН в 2007 году я работал над укреплением международного общения, писая и читая лекции. Теперь я рад объявить о публикации моей второй книги по многоязычному общению, «Очерки о переводе на конференциях», начиная с обнадеживающего видения цифрового гуманизма в нашем будущем, как его предвидел Никола Тесла, предлагая взгляд на многоязычие как на призму, расширяющую перспективы человечества, вместо того, чтобы искусственно сужать их фокус. В этой книге собраны важные уроки, извлеченные из ключевых моментов в течение 30-летней карьеры переводчика на межправительственной конференции и инструктора, с целью определить, что составляет хороший устный перевод и как развивать навыки и способности, которые способствуют этому, а также стимулирующие практики и технологии, помогающие поддерживать высокие профессиональные стандарты. Он подчеркивает важность английского языка как глобального лингва-франка и языка-ретранслятора, используемого на многоязычных мероприятиях и учреждениях. В книге устный перевод рассматривается в историческом контексте как дисциплина, освященная веками, и обсуждается влияние современных технологий на письменный и устный перевод, выявляются области, в которых он наиболее полезен (электронные средства связи, радиовещание), при этом подчеркивается, что профессиональное образование и подготовка лингвистов важнее, чем полагаться на технологические сокращения. Это ценный ресурс для всех, кто работает или тренируется в области интерпретации и связанных с ней форм межкультурного общения.

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