It is estimated that there are over 7,000 languages in the world. As a translator, this brings me down to earth. I can communicate properly in just two of these languages (English and German), with a reasonable reading level in one more (French). I know a few isolated words in one or two other languages, but I would not be capable of holding a conversation in any of them. This means that I am speechless in 99.9996% of the world’s languages.
This is underlined whenever I travel to a country where one of these 99.9996% of languages is spoken. Over recent years I have had language adventures in Italy, Mexico, Spain, Kenya, Turkey, Iceland and Israel. In all of these countries I am dependent on people who speak an “international” language. Usually this is my native English, sometimes my adopted German.
On my latest international holiday earlier this month, I was intrigued by this road sign, and I still don’t know what the author wants me to do:
I also found it challenging to cope with this parking ticket machine in Jerusalem:However, in my experience Israel was usually good at catering for multilingual needs, and traffic signs and road names were usually given in three languages:
For the record, the clock shows half past one (1:30 or 13:30 hrs). Otherwise, I only saw western numerals in Israel – except on the automatic car park information signs in Tel Aviv, which show the number of free spaces in Hebrew numerals.
As a final remark, I was very encouraged by a sign that I saw in the small town of Mas’ada in the very north-east of the country, a town with a large Arabic-speaking population close to the borders with Lebanon and Syria. As we drove out of the town, we saw a sign in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English) which said “Peace be with you”. I hope that this multilingual and multicultural attitude will prevail more and more in Israel.