Finding a multilingual home

This is a multicultural and multi-ethnic haven where people from everywhere intertwine in a safe and peaceful manner. Walking the streets, it is possible to hear languages coming from every country imaginable.

Before coming to Vancouver, I lived in Philadelphia, an ethnically and linguistically homogeneous region of the United States. Intermingling between cultures was not very common and most people stayed within their own groups. There was a lack of curiosity about other cultures that seemed almost chronic. I, on the other hand, came from a very multicultural and diverse family. My father is Algerian but grew up in France and my mother is from New Jersey. As a result, it was common to have three to four different languages being spoken at family dinners. I would turn to my mother and speak in English, speak to my father in French, while my grandparents would be conversing in Kabyle or Arabic.

Until I came to Vancouver, I didn’t expect to find a place where I felt like I belonged. I didn’t know much about it before coming here, but Vancouver welcomed me with open arms and a warm smile. Once I arrived at UBC, I was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by people that came from everywhere in the world and spoke many different languages. I was looking for my people and I found them in Vancouver. I currently live with five of my closest friends and between all of us, we represent nine different countries and speak six different languages. Together, we have created a diverse and wonderful home full of friendship.

“I would love to become a polyglot,” says Liam Sfaxi.

Now, what do you do when you have tons of friends that speak languages you have never even heard of? From the get-go, a linguistic exchange of curse words and interesting idiomatic expressions flourished amongst us college students. We learned about so many different languages ranging from Khmer to dialects of Spanish from most of the countries in South and Central America. It was a way for us to learn about each other, bond and create memories. We took advantage of the linguistic diversity and encompassed expressions from a multitude of different languages into our day-to-day vocabulary.

If it isn’t obvious yet, I love languages. I would love to become a polyglot. The language I am currently working on is Spanish. I never expected some of my closest friends to be conversing with me in different Spanish dialects. I took advantage of this and created a group chat with my Spanish-speaking friends called “Help Liam Pass Spanish”. The original purpose of this chat was to help me out with my Spanish homework, but it very quickly developed into a bit of a fascination. The arguments people have about the grammaticality of sentences is fascinating. The fact that these different dialects came together to help me pass my class is beautiful to me and demonstrates an aspect of the massive diversity of Vancouver.

There came a time when we got bored with learning the languages that we could all speak, so we turned to the Internet to learn a language that none of us was competent in, ASL. In the span of a month, my entire friend group got into learning as many signs as possible. We would sit around making up creative sentences, and playfully insulting each other. At our peak, I knew upwards of 200 signs. Imagine, a group of 20 college students sitting at the back of the #14 bus, signing to each other and having the time of their lives. It was a strange sight to see but it definitely helped us grow even closer.

I believe I have made one fact eminently clear: I find Vancouver’s diversity to be amazing. I love the blend of different languages and cultures that happen here. It has helped me grow into someone I am proud of. More than that, it has helped me make some awesome memories with some fantastic people while expanding my worldview. I look forward to many more years spent here, learning more languages with all of my friends by my side.