Bilingual Babies

My parents met in Ecuador. It was the mid sixties and they answered Kennedy’s call to become Peace Corps Volunteers. They tell me that they considered getting married in Ecuador but decided instead to come home so that their families could be at the wedding.

It is not inconceivable to say that had they not changed their plans I might have been born there, in Quito. Instead of being able to say that I am one of the few natives of Los Angeles I would have been the American kid who was born overseas. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because there isn’t. But sometimes I wonder how much better my Spanish would be had that happened.

Spanish has been a part of my world for my entire life. When my siblings and I were little the folks would use it to discuss things that they didn’t wants us to know about. But children are little sponges of learning and we all picked up on it.

And if I am not mistaken each of us took Spanish in school to meet the foreign language requirement. I can’t speak for my sisters, but I receive an ‘A’ in my courses. But somewhere along the way I started taking Hebrew and Yiddish lessons too and it didn’t take long for things to blur a bit.

There were more than a few moments where I confused words. Conversations became peppered with bits and pieces of this language and that. Fragments of sentences flowed from English to Hebrew to Spanish and Yiddish.

Eventually it grew to be quite difficult to focus on learning three languages at a time and I opted to focus on Hebrew. Some of that can be attributed to that famous summer of ’85 that I write about. It made it easy to do nothing but focus on speaking Hebrew. Everywhere I turned it was being spoken so it was much easier to spend time working on it.

As my proficiency grew I reached a point where I began to dream in Hebrew. It was a trip and it really helped to reinforce for me how beneficial it is to speak more than one language. When you are bilingual you look at the world differently and open yourself up to possibilities that you might not otherwise have experienced.

So when I became a father it was important for me to find a way to help my children learn a second language. As things worked out they were placed in a Hebrew immersion program that did a very fine job of helping them learn the language.

I can’t really say that the three of us are completely fluent or that we sound like native speakers. Although I should add that the children don’t have as thick an accent as I do. On a side note I still laugh at the idea of having an accent. It wasn’t until I was the sole American at an Israeli company that I really understood that I have one, but that is how it goes sometimes.

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6 Comments

  1. TheJackB July 16, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Language is really tough to retain- it is a use it or lose it situation. I have forgotten so much.
    My recent post Festival of Fathers- A Blog Experience 18

  2. TheJackB July 16, 2010 at 7:46 am

    Better late than never. Sounds like you are taking steps to change things. I think that is cool.
    My recent post Festival of Fathers- A Blog Experience 18

  3. Keith Wilcox July 16, 2010 at 5:54 am

    My wife and I got married in Mexico in a traditional Mexican ceremony. Our kids have dual citizenship, but I have to admit that my spanish is not as good as it used to be. I used to be fluent, now… hmmm, not so much. I took 4 years of German in college and majored in Spanish, but oddly, I've found no use for either language recently so I've started to forget. Thankfully, my wife is teaching the boys spanish — I'm happy about that. Hopefully they won't develop a case of the forgetsies like me 🙂
    My recent post Coloring Sheets 2

  4. twistedxtian July 16, 2010 at 3:50 am

    Growing up only knowing English, I felt left out when I was with friends that were bilingual. They could all speak English and French, the two official languages of Canada. All I could speak was lousy English.
    So now I am learning French (and ancient Greek, but that is a whole other matter), and am starting to see things differently as I learn this new language. Like NewYorkDad said, there are subtleties and nuance that come with it, and I'm really enjoying that.
    My recent post An Adventure to the Playground

  5. TheJackB July 15, 2010 at 7:23 am

    This is one of those topics that I have found can sometimes be difficult to explain to people who only speak one language. Like you mention nuance and subtleties- these are things that you can't really express unless you understand them in that other language.

    Or so it seems to me. But that never stopped me from trying, so many advantages lie in communication.
    My recent post Festival of Fathers- A Blog Experience 18

  6. @NewYorkDad July 15, 2010 at 2:40 am

    "When you are bilingual you look at the world differently." I couldn't agree more. I truly believe that it is one of the greatest gifts a parent can pass on to the kids. Bilingualism has just as much to do with language as it does with culture. Learning subtleties and nuance. How "words" can have such different meanings even in languages that are close relatives. You realize how important communicating is in our life and how easy it is to misinterpret. The gift of bridging that gap is priceless.

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