I grew up in Russia with parents who didn’t speak any foreign languages, nor had any particular interest in introducing them to their children. To be honest, back then, speaking multiple languages wasn’t exactly in style. By the time I was old enough to go to school, things had changed. Some public schools got “converted” to what they called “gymnasiums”, a special more privileged type of school that had a very strong and specific focus, be it languages or science or sports. The school I went to had certain classes with a strong focus on foreign languages, and other classes that had no focus at all. ( When I say “class” here, I mean, a group of 30 students assigned to the same “class”, who go through school together for 12 years ( elementary to high school), having all the same subjects and schedules. )
The way they determined whether a kid goes to a program that specializes in foreign languages vs a normal program were some sort of IQ tests ( I am not sure if these were actual IQ tests, but we definitely went through some kind of intelligence measuring tests). So after the 1st grade, all students would go through this test and the school would assign them to 5-6 classes of 30 people each, with two of them being the specialized (kind of like AP) classes, whose studies would concentrate on foreign languages. Even though I got into the AP class, I was too young to even understand the concept of a foreign language, not having been introduced to it previously. All I knew I wanted was to be and stay in the AP class (if you performed badly, you would get demoted to the “ordinary” classes).
So in the 2nd grade we started our English program. We had English class every single day, including Saturdays (which was a school day in Russia). That’s where I got a taste for foreign languages. I loved the concept of learning a completely new set of words and rules in a language that I knew nothing about.
That love continued and I got more and more interested in learning English. In 5th grade, the program introduced a second foreign language. We had to pick French or German. I picked German, because both my sister and my mom took german in school (under the normal program that introduces a foreign language in 5th grade, rather than 2nd like we had). Looking back, that was very silly of me, since neither one of them spoke more than a few words of German.
I still liked that I was studying yet another foreign language, but I wasn’t as obsessed with German as I was with English. Again, hindsight being 20/20, oh how I wish I had paid a little more attention and studied harder for my German classes as I did for my English. At this point, I can’t even say I have any knowledge of German: I recognize some words, I know how to read and how things sound, and if I could take a few months to study it up, I’m sure I’d be right back where I left it. But as of this moment, I don’t consider it functional at all.
We continued learning two foreign languages and in high school my favorite part started: the “in-depth” English studies. We had English composition, English literature, English “geography” ( a class where we studied the geography,political systems, and customs of all English speaking countries). All these special classes were taught strictly in English. We were even made to memorize long verses of Hamlet and Beowulf and other English classics.
I was obsessed! I knew I wanted to somehow connect my life with foreign languages. I knew if I had a prayer of getting into college to study foreign languages, I had to be a perfect student. I was getting all As, I had a million extra curriculum, from volleyball team to math club, to “intellectual” club to English speaking club. In any downtime, I would study English on my own via dictionaries and other materials bought from the university.
When I got into college, we continued studying 2 languages, English and German. I felt I needed more, so I ordered a special long distance Spanish class ( Spanish was VERY exotic back then, and it was impossible to find classes). This was my second obsession. Then I moved to US where I tried to continue studying Spanish on my own, but with no support and no real need to learn a foreign language ( because everyone speaks English), I slowly transitioned away from Spanish, though my love for it stayed.
Fast forward to now… Over many years of our marriage, I attempted to get hubby to take up a language with me. There were always excuses, we couldn’t agree on a language. He wanted French, the language of love, I couldn’t stand French. Eventually, I traveled to France and heard French the way it was supposed to be heard, spoken by normal people, and I fell in love with it. I came back home, and happily announced that we can now study French! We attempted to do so, however it being my husband’s first foreign language, it was really really hard for him. So eventually I gave up, because it was impossible to get him to remember anything. We switched back to Spanish, as it’s a much easier language and much more useful here in Florida. Plus he had lived up in Puerto Rico till he was 7 and spoke fluent Spanish (none of which he remembers now of course), so at least we had some sort of base there for him.
Spanish went much better, however there was still very little interest from him and I would have to really push us to study daily. Eventually, we got really busy and stopped our daily lessons, however we still try to speak some spanish to each other and watch occasional spanish shows.
So now that we are eagerly awaiting Alexis’s arrival, the topic of multilingual upbringing came up again. For me, foreign languages are a part of my life. It’s something I love, it’s something I do daily. I cannot IMAGINE not giving the same opportunities and benefits of learning and knowing another language to my daughter. My husband feels the same, though it’s easy for him to speak, since he’s monolingual and I would have to do all the heavy lifting on this one.
After reading a few books on bilingual and monolingual upbringing, we are both convinced it’s a MUST, it wires the baby’s brain in the most beneficial way. However, I can’t say it doesn’t have its own HUGE challenges…
I will write about our “plan” and our concerns and the questions that we have to other families who by choice or by necessity had chosen to go bi- or multi-lingual with their kids.
So look forward to Multilingual Upbringing Part II if you have something to contribute.
In the meantime, Saturday is the last day to enter in the Annee Matthew Maternity giveaway.
And Sunday I’ll introduce you to another maternity and clothing brand with an opportunity to win something yummy looking.