In my Young by Name column for the December issue of the Tetbury Advertiser – written during the build-up to the UK general election – I reflected on how my upbringing has affected my world view – and my love of languages.
From an early age, I counted myself as a traveller. Born in an era when most British families took holidays in their own country, and only one a year, usually in the summer, I had a fortunate head start at the tender age of eight.
An American Road Trip
My father’s job as a computer engineer required that he spend a year in the USA, and he took the whole family with him – my mum, my older brother and sister, and me. Initially posted to Philadelphia, he was asked after a month to relocate to Los Angeles.
My father’s natural sense of adventure had been nurtured by his earlier service with the Royal Navy, including two years during the Korean War on HMS Belfast, now a museum on the Thames. He negotiated swapping our expenses-paid plane tickets for petrol, and so began our great American road trip in the family car. Our scenic route was designed to take in world-famous, memorable landmarks such as Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park and Las Vegas. Before I turned nine, I had seen more of the US than many American adults.
The Railways of Europe
His subsequent posting to Germany during my last four years of high school saw me hopping on and off trans-European railways in my school holidays, a confident solo traveller. Only recently, as my own teenage daughter started travelling abroad independently, did my parents reveal that they were much less insouciant about my train trips than I was.
In adulthood, I have made countless journeys abroad, not only for pleasure. Business trips have taken me as far afield as Hong Kong and the Caribbean. Yet now, with the likelihood of trans-European travel becoming less straightforward post Brexit, coupled with concern for my carbon footprint, my appetite for foreign jaunts is waning.
A World of Languages
Therefore my recent decision to start learning more foreign languages may seem incongruous. I already have some French and German from my schooldays and a little tourist Greek from evening classes, which for many people might seem plenty. But when my daughter introduced me to Duolingo, a free app that makes learning another language fun, she sparked a latent desire. The languages offered by this app are not only the obvious ones from the the school curriculum. Hankering after Hawaiian? Keen on Klingon? Duolingo has those too.
I’m starting with Latin, because I’ve long wanted to have a better grasp of the roots of English. But Latin is only a small part of the picture. Our English language has of course been enriched by many more tongues since the Romans left English soil, via immigrants, invaders and imported texts.
Whatever happens politically in the next few months, nothing can take away our rich linguistic culture. Every time I pick up my pen, I celebrate our long heritage of the blending of Anglo Saxon with French, German, Greek, Latin and many more European languages.
As JFK almost said at the height of another politic crisis, “Ich bin Europäer”.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read more of my columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, which I’m compiling into books. The first volume, Young By Name (the name of my column in the magazine), covers the issues from 2010 through 2015. The second volume, taking us from 2016 through 2020, will be out at the end of 2020.
Or order from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223030.