November 21, 2011

The "one country, one language" myth

I dragged my mother to the first annual Vancouver Turkish Film Festival to see this documentary. On the way into the make-shift theatre, a man asked why we had chosen this particular movie.

The synopsis, I said, reminded me of Bahcesaray, a village in Eastern Turkey that I had visited for the sake of its name ("Garden Palace"). In this beautifully named village, I had learned a startling truth: Not all Turks speak Turkish, at least not as a first language.

The documentary reminds us of this truth. The pale-skinned, silver watch-wearing, Turkish-speaking teacher from the West is confronted with it when he arrives for his two-year posting at a primary school in the East. Many of his students only speak Kurdish. At once, his task shifts from teaching mathematics and social studies to teaching Turkish.

"He's a language teacher with no language training!" I whispered to my mother partway through.

The title is Iki Dil Bir Bavul ("Two Languages One Suitcase"), but the English title was given as On the Way to School.

November 11, 2011

Yes, I don't

"Joe? Do you understand?"

[Joe--Chinese name unknown to me--looks me in the eye. Rests his hands on his round belly, on the belt that encircles the belly perfectly, like the equator. Joe smiles. He is confident.]

"Yes, I don't."

Nobody captures Level One like Joe.