July 13, 2010

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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