I am trying to teach my youngest child three languages. I am determined to make it work, even if I only speak one perfectly. I am making a conscious decision to do something that is almost as awful as pulling teeth (in my opinion). I am determined to force myself to come out of my comfort zone, even if it means being laughed at; yes, it happens sometimes. My attempts to teach my young child English, Arabic and French were inevitably a disaster waiting to happen, except that it happened right away. It is a deliberate act of madness on my part, and I hope that my son makes it out alive.
Here’s a little background on my adventures. I have always been a passive bilingual. In my case, I understand spoken French (mostly), I understand written French (greatly), and I can speak some French. The problem is, as the years go by, my linguistic ability coupled with my self-confidence dwindles. And boy is it ever complicated! Along with my love for French, I found it necessary to study and learn Arabic – I married an Arabic speaker. Sure, he speaks English, but my mother-in-law doesn’t speak more than ten words of English.
Learning a new language in your late 20’s is something different. I have always respected immigrants who move to new countries and learn the language (through no choice of their own of course), but now I respect them ten-fold.
Born in a country (Jamaica) where English was my mother tongue, but a dialect (patois) was my daily reality, I didn’t “really” speak English until I was forced to at the age of nine, when I immigrated to Canada. It is now as careless and ordinary as blinking, or in my husband’s words…I have a beautiful tongue. My English, unlike French and Arabic is a careless form of no-nonsense poetry. It takes almost no effort at all. Deep in my psyche, I wish to have this relationship with at least one of my non-native languages. Oh, but what’s a wish really?
What’s a wish when time and effort are the key players? I know what I have to do; I have to buckle down and just do it. I know this. Aside from my inability to really grasp the language, there are just a few road blocks. Arabic and French confuse me. I think however, that it is my lack of ability to truly master at least one of the second languages that is the most frustrating. My confusion lies behind the fact that while I give it my best, my best has never been good enough.
My son is not my first language guinea pig. Years ago, I tried to teach my kids French. Their young minds were already being challenged because they were also learning Mandarin at a private Chinese school. They were excited about language — all the kids they knew were bilingual, or on their way to being bilingual. I must admit, at that time my ability to communicate in French was much better than it is today. My young children not only understood my commands, they had a great French vocabulary. Unfortunately, while my French was great, my life was too busy, I could not focus. I could not make the switch from English speaker to French speaker, much less to French teacher. Little did I know that I did not have to.
Years later, with no bilingual child at home, I can see where I went wrong at every turn. Sure, there are a few regrets, however, after trying to push my older children to learn “any” language, I have come to the conclusion that they will do it, when they want to do it. I have not given up… I embrace the challenge yet again.
So why am I trying to teach my infant son two languages that I am obviously less than mediocre in? And here’s the question of the day: why doesn’t my husband teach our young son his first language? After-all, the script is awkward, writing from right to left is something that I can’t get used to.
Why am I punishing myself? Because I have matured enough to understand and accept the fact that my ultimate goal is not necessarily to teach him to speak French or Arabic. My objective is to teach my son to appreciate and love the process of learning. I also want my child to be a citizen of the world; I want him to appreciate the process of being a part of something, even if he wasn’t born into it.
After all, his mother was born in Jamaica, immigrated to Canada, and married his Yemeni father in Egypt. That’s pretty global in my opinion.
What are the little things that nag you about parenting or bringing up your children? Do you ever feel that other moms can do it all but you can’t even get started? When do you decide to give up, or keep moving forward, on teaching your children a new skill?
Image credit to Tobbias Mikkelsen. This image has a creative commons attribute license.