Chapter 1: Passion and Language

Bel Canto , by Ann Pratchett, begins with a vivid opening that left me hooked for the rest or the chapter. The scene takes place at a lavish birthday celebration in honor of Katsumi Hosokawa at the home of the Vice President of an unnamed South American country. Hosokawa is head of a major Japanese electronics company who has a love for music, especially when it comes to opera and I couldn’t help but to notice how passionate he is about it. He travels from Japan all the way to South American on his birthday for this opera performance. The narrator explains that Hosokawa first fell in love with the opera on his 11th birthday during a performance of Rigoletto that he had the pleasure of seeing with his father. The narrator also mentioned that although Hosokawa worked hard, acquired a prestigious job, and started a family, he still believed that “true life” is something that was stored in music. Hosokawa knew that opera wasn’t for every one but “for everyone he hoped there was something”. Hosokawa proves to be one who has devoted time to finding himself and discovering what makes him happy.

As the night continues, ,many elite members of society are in attendance with the famous opera soprano Roxanne Coss being one of them. Her performance has the guests mesmerized when all of the sudden, darkness fills the room. Terrorists impede the party and begin to search for the President, who was thought to be in attendance. Frustrated, the terrorists begin interrogating guests regarding the whereabouts of the president.

General Alfredo, one of the terrorists, attempts to gain the guests attention but there is an obvious confusion due to a language barrier and he discovers that a large percentage of guests are unable to speak the native language, Spanish. This causes Mr. Hosakawa to reflect back to a time when he once tried to learn Italian through a set of tapes he would often listen to during his free time. The reason he strived to learn Italian over other languages is due to the fact that he was more concerned with improving his understanding of the opera. Admittingly, he now wonders if he should have devoted this time more efficiently by learning English for business purposes. Now he relies on his translator, Gen Watanabe, in situations such as these.

This sparked an interest that I have always had about language so I decided to dig a little deeper into the topic. Learning or knowing another language carries a significant amount of importance and is often times seen as a highly valued asset. Last semester I studied abroad in England where I met friends that were from all over the world. I quickly found out and became envious that they were all able to speak in different languages ranging for Norwegian to Chinese. This chapter talks a lot about language so I did some research relating to different regions of the world and the number of bilingual residents.

When speaking in terms of the entire world, 50 percent of the population is bilingual. Despite a person’s background, bilinguals can be found all over the planet whether they are rich, poor, educated, or even illiterate. When comparing different areas around the world, only 20 percent of the population in America is bilingual. That number may sound low but compared to 1980, the percent of bilinguals amounted to only 14 percent. Further north, the percentage increases to 35 percent in Canada. In Europe over half of the population is considered bilingual, with many speaking more than two languages. So the question now is why does America lack so much in this field of knowledge? We have a diverse population yet such a low percentage of bilinguals.

After quite a bit of research I found that in the past, immigrants who have traveled the US strived to be “American” in as many ways as possible. They wanted to get rid of any type of f accent in order to be accepted and become part of the prevailing culture. Over time this has resulted in later generations being unable to speak their native language due to the fact that their ancestors chose to solely incorporate English into their lives. 77 percent of Americans feel strongly that immigrants should able to speak English. I agree with this as well but I think it is also important for English speaking people to learn Spanish due to high growth rate of Spanish throughout the world. When I was in kindergarten, I learned to count to ten in Spanish and that was the last time I was taught Spanish until my junior year of high school. I found that only 25 percent of public elementary schools are teaching language. Language, in my opinion, is just as important as math or science. The world is a diverse place and with more and more people coming to the United States, Americans need to be prepared to live in a bilingual nation.

Grosjean, F. (2013, May 20). Bilinguals in the United States. Retrieved September 1, 2015.

MComb, Chris. “About One in Four Americans Can Hold a Conversation in a Second Language.” Gallup. April 6, 2001. Accessed September 1, 2015.

Gallegos, Raul. “Better Get Used to Living in Bilingual America.” Bloomberg View. May 14, 2014. Accessed September 1, 2015.

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Passion and Language

  1. katelynzander says:

    I find your research topic to be a very important theme in chapter one that I had completely overlooked. I got so caught up in the drama of the story that I paid zero attention to all of the languages mentioned. Since reflecting on the ideas we talked about in class I agree that Gen seems like he is going to be a key character in this novel. He knows many languages and I believe to he will be the middleman between the terrorists and the hostages, acting as a peacekeeper. His knowledge of languages will make him a connection between a vast group of people. From French to Spanish and from Czech to Italian, the variety of languages in just these first twenty something pages gives us an idea of how cultured this group is.

    I have always thought it to be a shame that America isn’t more cultured when it comes to languages. It is remarkable to me that through your research you found that 50% of the world is bilingual while we are in a country where it is very rare to meet someone who is bilingual. When we do finally meet someone they are most likely from another country and English is their second language. While we grow up learning Spanish in school they do not push us to really learn and speak the language. We are given the same vocabulary year after year. I find it necessary if America wants to stay the “greatest country” that we are going to need to raise our bilingual rate.

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  2. hcelemen says:

    Anna, I believe that language and communication are central themes in this book because there of the challenges they are facing. Language barriers will restrict people from communicating with each other properly and this will push them to find another way to communicate with each other. It has always impressed me how well deaf people can express themselves when communicating with others. Some deaf people need a translator, use assistive listening devices, or rely on written messages. There are also those who can speak even though they can’t hear.[1] They are forced to speak in order to adapt and appear normal to the public. For this very same reason, it is sad to learn how low the percentage of bilingual people there are in the U.S. It is even sadder to know that most of those children born to immigrant parents have forgotten their native language in exchange for living the life of an American. I am fortunate enough to still remember my native language. The Census Bureau released data pertaining to the 2013 American Community Survey for languages spoken by 5 years and older. Since “2013, they’ve recorded that 61.8 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) spoke a language other than English at home.” 1.6 million of those people speak Tagalog, my national language, from the Philippines. Many that speak a foreign language are not immigrants but born in the US (44%). The found that there was an increase of Spanish speaking people from 2010 to 2013 with there being 38..4 million. [2] Spanish is understandably the preferred second language after English here in America because of the high demand for speaking it. It looks good on resumes and dealing with international businesses. However, I found that Chinese actually has the highest number of total population of first and second language speakers counted in all countries. This data is based on 2009 data.[3] Language is such a great way to meet people and connect with them, and I strongly believe it is essential to our future.

    1) http://www.ada.gov/hospcombrscr.pdf
    2) http://cis.org/record-one-in-five-us-residents-speaks-language-other-than-english-at-home
    3) http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/languages.htm

    Hannah Celemen

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  3. ballen68 says:

    I find your research very interesting as it pertains to something I am trying to do myself, learn a new language. I’m learning Spanish right now, and am on my fourth month of studying the language. I believe that learning a second language is important for many reasons, some being psychological and some physical. Learning a language tends to make someone more cultured, they are now able to speak to a whole new group of people whom they could not communicate with previously. This allows you to learn more about their culture, and also allows you to have an immediate connection, because of how important communication is. I became aware of the importance of communication, and just how much it means to someone when you attempt to learn their language while I was in Spain this last summer studying abroad. When people saw that I was speaking their language, but wasn’t from there, they immediately gained respect for me and then had a deeper level of connection with me because of that. Language in my opinion is right up there with music and food, as a means of bringing people together and having communion. The physical benefits to learning a second language are various, but all stimulate in your brain. Scientists have discovered that learning a second language actually makes your brain bigger. The left side of our brain is harder to develop, but language is all learned in the left side, so this is one of the most efficient ways to increase brain activity and strength in the left hemisphere. I think you touched on some really neat facts and thoughts Anna! I had not thought of the language barriers very much until reading your post, and now I think I may explore this area some as we go through Bel Canto.

    Bryson Allen

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