Runner up of last year’s Languages Speak up! competition, Sophie Reece-Trapp blogs about her experience of discovering her ‘linguistic paradise’ and encourages others to do the same.
After falling in love with all things German during a school exchange to Munich, Sophie spent her Gap Year working in Cologne, before studying Modern and Medieval Language (Dutch and German) in Cambridge. Currently a trainee at the European Parliament, Sophie will be moving to Leuven in September to embark on a Master’s degree in European Studies.
Brussels might not have the climate of a tropical island, but in my eyes, it is a linguist’s paradise.
At the beating heart of a country that boasts three official languages, a rich tapestry of tongues is woven on its streets. Staccato tones of Swahili rebound from the shop fronts lining Matongé, a vibrant quarter that takes its name from the commercial district of Kinshasa, Congo. Anyone walking from the artsy square at Flagey to the Ixelles/Etterbeek border during Euro 2012 would have passed fervent Portugal supporters spilling out of pubs, marking each goal with a cacophony of shouts and whistles that could be hear from streets away. Not to mention the weekly market at the Gare du Midi, where the exchange of euros for vegetables, fruit and clothes is executed in fluent Arabic. Even the streets of Brussels exude an international character: the chic Place du Londres or the Rue Americaine with its grid-like formation.
In the aptly-named ‘European Quarter’ sprawls the European Parliament. It is in these labyrinthine buildings that I have been a trainee for the past five months, in the Committee on Culture and Education. Je discute avec mes collègues en français, die Mehrheit meiner Freunde bevorzugt Deutsch and, of course, my mother-tongue, English, is an indispensable lingua franca. And, of course, Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish and a multitude of other language echo along the corridors, as legislation is drawn up in 23 different languages. A truly international workplace in a truly international city.
Yet who says that my paradise has to be your paradise? It is certainly not only Brussels or Belgium that boasts this rich diversity of languages and cultures from across the world. Have you ever wandered around the Marais in Paris, past the Yiddish bakeries, Kosher pizzeria and Hebrew bookshop and asked yourself: am I in France or Israel? Travelled just half an hour with the train and, upon disembarking, found yourself to be barely intelligible? Or even popped into the Chinese supermarket on the corner and felt yourself transported half-way across the world? In our globalised society, we no longer need to buy an expensive flight ticket to experience different cultures and languages: they are right on our doorstep.
An increasing number of my friends, also interns, are postponing holiday plans this year, citing a lack of funds. Instead of bewailing this situation, perhaps we should take this opportunity to take a closer look at the colourful cultural and linguistic landscapes surrounding us, whether we’re based in a high-rise city flat or in mountainous climes. We might just be pleasantly surprised!
View Sophie’s Languages Speak up! entry here