Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Babel On: Language-Sharing Groups Showcase Multi-Tongued, Multicultural Canada

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Babel On: Language-Sharing Groups Showcase Multi-Tongued, Multicultural Canada

Article excerpt

Language sharers a Canadian cross-section


TORONTO - Not even the relentless throb of a hip-hop beat can drown out the sounds of a typical Tuesday night upstairs at Toronto's Rivoli nightclub.

The top floor of the bustling bar echoes each week with the staccato clack of German consonants, the melodic lilt of Japanese vowels and persistent peals of laughter as more than a hundred aspiring language students struggle to master their new tongues.

The students -- from all walks of life and ranging in age from early 20s to late 70s -- are members of Toronto Babel, an informal language exchange program that has been giving the city's international community a chance to speak in new and native tongues alike for the past three years.

The din of different languages is loudest in Toronto, where 1.8 million people reported speaking an immigrant language at home, according to fresh 2011 census numbers released Wednesday. Vancouver ranked a distant second with 711,515 people reporting an at-home preference for a language other than English or French, Statistics Canada reported.

Cantonese and Punjabi ranked highest on the list of languages in Toronto, along with other Chinese languages, Urdu, Tamil and Tagalog, which originates in the Philippines.

For Kevin Harrington, the laid-back pub setting allows him to instruct a younger generation in the six languages he's acquired over his 77 years. Regulars know him as a first point of contact for any newcomers wishing to learn Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Portuguese or Japanese.

"Mostly, I'm helping give conversational exercises for those who want to learn it," Harrington says. "But secondly, I'm also practising any number of languages, according to who's at the table or who's in the crowd."

At the front of the room, two organizers work quietly to turn an ordinary night on the town into a productive language exchange. They note who has arrived, the languages they speak and the ones they hope to learn. The organizers then spend much of their evening directing traffic to make sure that eager students are paired off with the appropriate teachers.

When Lee Pen first walked into Babel a few months ago, it took the organizers about 30 seconds to pair him off with a Spanish speaker to help him hone his conversational skills. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.