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.