Global Language Advocacy Day 2022: Personal reflections

I recently became a member of the Global Coalition for Language Rights, the leading movement behind Global Language Advocacy Day. My new membership heightened a responsibility to represent the message ‘language rights are human rights’ this advocacy day on the 22nd February 2022. Usually I would discuss my creative projects that legitimise minority and low status languages but instead I took a moment to reflect on my personal language journey via Twitter:

In the spirit of a new approach to sharing myself via blog writing (as discussed here), I paste the full thread below.

#GLAD22 My multilingual story began late in life. Although I learnt Japanese in school, it wasn’t until my early twenties in Germany that I experienced the new sense of self and other that can come with learning a language. German changed my life.

Self: German not only gave me a new chance to develop resources that help me connect with people, make them think and laugh, but also deepened my understanding of self. I am not the aspects that I perform, but the values and curiosity that sit at the underbelly of it all.

I achieved some comfort in German but was soon to realise that everyone around me had varying levels of comfort with me and the otherness I stood for. Understanding my privileges, this realisation started an intense (and ongoing) self-reflection and a new type of listening:

Other: As I voiced a request at a German café I began to compare the anonymity that I brought with my white, cis female, able body (until I am othered through voice) with friends othered through sight the moment they walked through that café door.

I realised that close listening is useless without being framed by context situated knowledge. I developed an artistic practice around such listening, situating and valuing. I moved, and moved again, trying Punjabi, isiXhosa, Afrikaans and Irish Gaelic. The latter helped me learn about language as an enduring practice of will, connection and hope within my Irish family postmigration.

Learning German wasn’t about mastering a set of rules and memorising a lexicon but instead about learning to see my own frailty as a source of sensitivity and spirit.

My late understanding of multilingualism catalysed a new path in life which I’m grateful to share. But this day is for those whose knowledge particularly lies outside dominant languages and thus have much more to lose. Follow @GlobLangRights and the hashtag to start listening.

Claire French is a performance maker and researcher, specialising in multilingual, applied and autobiographical performance.