School of Babel Teaches Us About Learning a New Language and Living a New Life
They come from all over the world: Egypt, Mauritius, Venezuela, Serbia, Morocco, Belarus, Brazil, Senegal, Chile, China, Ukraine, Romania, the list goes on. They are young kids aged 11–15 whose families have moved to Paris, where they have to learn French to get by. They come from the working class and in the “reception” class they are learning not only a new language, but they are learning how to grow up, because when you are that age, you are learning everything all the time.
Moving to a new country and learning a new language brings out a lot of emotional reactions, and this is what director Julie Bertucelli explores with her observational camera. Over a period of several months she records classroom sessions, talks between pupils, parents and counselors and a visit to a kids film festival.
These children represent all that is wonderful about youth: the spontaneity, the desire to excel, the fear of failure and rejection, the quick emotions, the fear of looking foolish, the love of their families and homeland, the things they know best and rely on for comfort and support. Despite their high spirits, some miss home. Others are happy to be away from situations they hated. They have high hopes for the future. But come what may, they all have one thing they have to do: learn French.
In this class they have to communicate in their new language, there’s no choice. So the kids discuss various topics and we learn about their inquisitive nature. “Why are there so many religions?,” asks one child, as they go around the room and talk about their religious backgrounds. A good question for a group with Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, you name it, many of whom have come from countries where civil war is often cloaked in religious terms. After a series of discussions about diverse cultures, languages and religions, another child says, “Earth should be called Question.” An oddly provocative suggestion.
They face challenges like having parents who work and can’t spend a lot time with their children. But if there’s one thing the children and their parents have in common, it’s their fierce ambition, the feeling that no goal in life is too high. Through the inevitable highs and lows the kids experience, the laughs and tears and “babble,” human connections are made, friendships are formed, and that includes a connection with those of us in the audience who have been fortunate enough to see this film.
*Director Julie Bertucelli in attendance
Second screening: Fri 11/01/2013 15:00 VOX 5