Language, a tool or a barrier ?

Language - a tool or a barrier ?
(Originally appeared in Castellano in Xabia al Dia Magazine, August 2008)

Nina Davies
July 2008

Language can be either a tool for, or a barrier against, communication; in Xàbia, sadly, I feel it is mostly used a barrier. While there must be over ten major languages used daily by the inhabitants of our town I have come across very few places where they are shared. The celebration of April 23 as the World Day of Books in the public library is one of the few that I know of, and enjoy, every year.
Before I moved to Xàbia five years ago I worked for over ten years for European ONG’s, organising and facilitating European networks concerned with public health issues such as SIDA, drugs, sexual health and cancer prevention. The members of these groups came from all the countries that make up the European Union and spoke almost as many languages. I recently spent four days working with a group of people from over 30 countries worldwide on the subject of problem gambling.

I thought about why it had been possible to overcome the barriers of language there, and also in the European networks with whom I worked previously. I came to the conclusion that it was, in each case, because we were working to reach a common objective. We used all the methods available to communicate with each other – we worked in small groups where most people spoke the same language and then shared the results in a larger group where interpretation was available. We used consecutive, rather than simultaneous, interpretation because it is considerably less expensive and because this method forces people to speak more slowly, to think about what they are going to say before they say it and to speak in short paragraphs, rather than long, and sometimes rambling, essays. A bonus is that often people become more fluent in other languages through hearing words they have already understand in their mother tongue.

Could this happen in Xàbia? Could the different national groups who live side by side in our town find a common goal, one that everyone can sign on to and by working for this objective learn to talk with, and listen to, each other? We are at a key moment in the town’s history, drawing up a new town plan to take us into the future. One tool, which can and does facilitate this process, is Agenda 21 and it has already done some first class work in putting some of the key development issues on the table. But the number of town’s folk involved in the process is small and the number of “foreigners” even smaller. What we need is a clear, simple objective that will draw everyone in and then work together to define and achieve the goals which would make it happen.
What objective could everyone in Xabia agree to – from the valenciano speaking native Javienses who live in the pueblo, to the castellano speaking shopkeepers and owners of commercial premises in the port and the arenal, to the British, German, Dutch, French etc. etc. speakers who mostly live in the outlying urbanisations?

Most people want to see a town where permanent residents and visitors alike can live in safety, enjoying the considerable amenities of the area and where an infrastructure is constructed to sustain the existing development before any new is started. Safe water, adequate sewage treatment, a public transport system which allows people to travel around Xabia and its surroundings safely and where cars and people are segregated are just a few of the concrete, achievable aims which have already been proposed. Add to that jobs for the working population and affordable housing for first time buyers and you have a workable plan for the next five years at least.

All of these points are being discussed, but by different groups of people, in different places and at different times, without a structure that unites them. The English speaking community is beginning to get more involved, through the University of the Third Age (U3a). In Xabia alone this organisation has 700 members, with another 200 on the waiting list, and there are groups in Denia and Moraira as well. This must make it the largest anglophone organisation in the town, if not one of the largest per se, and yet, up till now, it has had very little contact with any of the other interest groups in Xàbia. This summer a small but active group has formed to look at making an input into Agenda 21, and thus into the planning process, by leaders who have attended almost all the Agenda 21 meetings in the past.

Perhaps this could be used as a model, where different language and interest groups initially meet on their own, working to specific goals, the results of which are formally fed into the town planning process. So, instead of the previous model of “tables” looking at specific areas there would be A21 Amas de Casa, A21 U3a, A21 AFRAM and so on. These existing organisations would need to be asked to take part – but why wouldn’t they? How the town develops effects everyone.

Larger sessions held later on in the process would enable the outcomes of each group to be shared, using consecutive interpretation. So the time consuming debate and exploration of ideas would have been done and short, sharp reports from groups would mean an efficient, effective meeting working towards a common objective.
Could this work in Xabia ? I am sure it could. Will it, or something like it, happen in Xabia? I will wait and see.

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