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Mother tongues

Students, alumni bring linguistic abilities to multilingual nature walks

By Mandy Cook

Among the birdsong in a local park recently was the human sound of Arabic, English, Farsi/Persian, French, Gujarati and Spanish speakers.

The Multilingual Nature Walk at Bidgood’s Park in The Goulds in June was organized by Nature Newfoundland and Labrador and stemmed from previous outings the non-profit organization held for newcomers to the province.

Natural progression

They started with Nature for New Canadians, taking groups to Salmonier Nature Park, The Rooms and outside for fun activities. It was a natural progression to extending multilingual programming in general – for anyone.

“Maybe someone’s new here, maybe they’ve been living here for 20 years but speak other languages, or maybe it’s their second language as is the case for me,” said Laura King, president, Nature N.L.

“We noticed at some of our events, some of our members would be speaking in other languages to their kids anyways, while our leaders were speaking in English, because it was important to those people to raise their kids in their languages. So, we thought we might be able to do that too, and provide nature interpretation in multiple languages right from the start.”

Hikers Beverly McClenaghan and Sohil Pramij on the trail at Bidgood’s Park.
Photo: Submitted

The Memorial connection comes from the linguistic skills of the hike leaders.

PhD students, undergraduates and alumni have all participated as hike leaders and interpreters/translators, speaking in the participants’ language of choice about the plants, animals, fungi and other natural elements that can be found on the trail.

One of them, Sohil Pramij, a computer science student at Memorial who is going into his third year of study this fall, speaks Gujarati (plus French, Spanish, and Malagasy).

He says they saw a number of sparrows that he came to realize are the same birds they have in his home country of Madagascar (called chakli in Gujarati) and which are considered sacred. That wasn’t his most memorable part of the hike, though.

“My favourite part was definitely learning that the very mosquitoes that I usually run away from are sought after for research, a very active field and interest here in Newfoundland,” he said with a laugh.

He also said it was a great opportunity to brush up on his mother tongue that he has “pretty much” given up using since arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador, getting out into nature and spending time with new friends.

A group picture with signs representing each language spoken.
Photo: Submitted

Liz Fagan, a graduate of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences with a French major, says she got involved through biweekly Francophone meetups with Ms. King.

The decision to act as a hike leader and interpreter was an “easy one.”

“I hope Francophones feel that the parks in Newfoundland and Labrador are as much theirs as they are to locals,” said Ms. Fagan, whose first language is English and is functional in Russian and German in addition to being bilingual in French. “Canada is ours to share with the world.”

Mr. Pramij agrees the nature of this land is something everyone should enjoy.

He says he met some nice people, got to brush up on his Spanish and learned about a certain invasive plant that many local gardening enthusiasts are familiar with.

“I remember what it was . . . Japanese knotweed!”

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