By Jorge Jorquera
Melbourne’s western suburbs are among the most diverse communities in the world so it’s only fitting that Footscray should host the very first Language in Community Festival.
Taking place on International Human Rights Day on Saturday December 9, the festival will celebrate language in all its diversity and its role in nurturing a meaningful multiculturalism.
Here in the west across the Brimbank, Wyndham and Maribyrnong municipalities, over 54% of people use a language other than English at home. In the City of Maribyrnong alone, we speak 82 different languages in our homes, with our families, friends and neighbours. Which helps explain Melbourne’s status as the fifth most ethnically diverse city on the globe.
The languages we speak are central to our communities and who we are in so many ways. We all have unique words and phrases for expressing our thoughts and emotions, for connecting, sharing and expressing our values and culture. Language influences how we look at the world, how we connect with it, and how we remember it. Language carries our collective memory, and our hopes and aspirations.
The Language in Community Festival is about celebrating our language diversity and supporting its continuity from generation to generation. According to Hoang Tran Nguyen, one of the organisers of the event and founding member of ViệtSpeak, ‘In Australia we often acknowledge and express multiculturalism through food or cultural events like Diwali or Lunar New Year. But language is rarely publicly celebrated.’
‘Because so many languages are spoken in Naarm Melbourne’s west, we want to showcase this in a meaningful way through the Festival. Language loss in communities is very real so we need to support each other in addressing this challenge,’ said Tran Nguyen.
The festival is the result of a local community collaboration, initiated by ViệtSpeak and Angliss Neighbourhood House. Jo Williams, co-coordinator of Angliss Neighbourhood House, who also has experience as a language teacher, feels a deep personal connection to the importance of language for cultural preservation and global citizenry. ‘Both of our sons grew up mostly in Australia but bilingual,’ she says.
‘I fondly recall some of their first words, like mas (more) and zapato (shoe). Their Spanish language is a big part of their world-view, their appreciation of the interconnectedness of humanity. I learnt Spanish to communicate with them, and enriched my own appreciation of language and other cultures in the process.’
The festival includes a wide range of community language groups, with music and dance performances, children’s book readings, badge making, kite making, and other workshops and displays.
‘There will be lots of opportunities for participation, including language karaoke,’ says Williams. ‘We hope the community can really enjoy this celebration of language diversity.’
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