BALIF Communications & Public Relations Chair
Greetings from your Communications and Public Relations Chair! I'm excited to be starting my second year as a BALIF Board Member, and to be returning to lead this committee. Last year we overhauled our communication style and frequency. We revamped our website. And we moved hearts and minds by blasting dozens of "It Gets Better" videos into cyberspace. This year, we're thinking bigger. And bolder. As the oldest and largest LGBT bar association in the world, we want BALIF to take center stage nationally. And my Committee is all about spreading the news. I'm excited to serve as BALIF's mouthpiece and biggest cheerleader. You'll be hearing more from me in the coming weeks. For now, here's a peek into how and why communication has become such an integral part of my life.
When I was about 12 years old I stumbled upon a cable access television show that taught German to adults. I can't really explain why, but I began to watch it every day and marveled at how the teacher was able to change her voice to the appropriate accent to accommodate the foreign words that made no sense to me. Students watching at home were invited to call in to answer the various exercises she covered in the lesson, and many did, turning this one-person TV show into a virtual classroom.
At the end of the course, the teacher announced she would be moving on to French, and interested students could register by calling in and requesting a lesson packet. I immediately made the phone call and began to wait anxiously for my French lessons to arrive. A few days later I got the packet in the mail. I excitedly flipped through those stapled pages and fantasied about the day when it would all make sense.
The class began much like any foreign language class with an introduction to the alphabet and a rough guide to pronunciation. The teacher would read, and ask us to repeat, and repeat I did. I followed along with the exercises, filling in the blanks on my worksheets before she gave the answer just to test myself. After a few weeks of watching I began to get comfortable with some of the basic sentence structure and tried with all my might to muster up a French accent when necessary. One day I decided it was time the teacher met her eager Southern pupil, so I called in and told the operator I wanted to answer one of the questions. She instructed me to turn down my television, much to my dismay, as I was looking forward to hearing my voice on the radio. Suddenly, I heard a new voice, a familiar voice, and it was talking to me:
Her: "Bonsoir, comment t'appelles tu?"
Her: "Allo? Comment t'appelles?"
Me: "Uh...allo! Je m'appelle Ted."
The conversation went on from there, and after telling her how I was doing, I answered a question from the exercise and bid her adieu. It wasn't until I was off the phone that I realized what I had just done: I just had my first real conversation in a foreign language. I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, and I knew that I wanted to learn more.
I finished the French program, and when the teacher announced her next language would be Spanish, I signed right up. After Spanish came Japanese, and I completed that one too. Obviously the fluency with which I could speak was low, but she had given me the basics, the fundamentals of learning a language, and those have stayed with me. I went on to formally study French and Spanish in high school and college. When I started I found myself heads above the rest of the class thanks to my TV teacher.
So why, you must be asking yourself, when asked to write about "What I've Learned," am I writing about my foreign language studies? "I took Spanish," you're telling yourself. What's the big deal?
The big deal, really, is that aside from the actual language, what I really learned, and what I cherish, is the ability to communicate with people in a way I simply cannot in English. Learning languages encouraged me to start traveling to places where I could practice my skills. When I'm in, for example, a Spanish-speaking country, I feel much closer to the people because I can communicate in their language. Even when I go somewhere and I don't know the language, I've learned that simply trying to learn a little as you go can make a big difference. It shows a sign of respect for their language and culture, and it usually brings a smile to their face.
My humble advice is simple: strive to look at the world from an international perspective. If that means learning a language, go for it. I don't think you're ever too old to learn. If travel does it for you, plan an exotic vacation, or just go somewhere you've never gone. Or, combine both like I did. You could read an international newspaper, or watch a foreign film. The point is to step out of your comfort zone and see the world through someone else's eyes. I believe the more you can see of the rest of the world, the better you will be at understanding your own world.