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Monday, June 18, 2018

At first glance, the woman reminded me of my younger self, a mother with a small child filling the hour or so before dinner with a visit to the bookstore.

That’s why I noticed her, I suppose. No matter how long I live, I expect to feel the tug of sorority with other mothers, regardless of their age. I always smile at the young moms and fight the temptation to share my secret. “Once upon a time, I was just like you,” I want to tell them. “I had young children, too, just like you.”

On this particular day, a recent Tuesday, I was at the bookstore because of my 4-year-old grandson. I had just picked him up from preschool, and in an effort to charm him, I returned to the one place that always made my children, including his father, so happy.

I held his hand as we crossed the parking lot and felt the old anticipation of discovery. “You can pick one book,” I used to tell my kids. Now, as a doting grandmother, I’ve upped the bounty.

“You can get two books,” I told him. Both of us knew full well he’d end up with four. All of them were about dinosaurs.

We sat on the floor together to sort through a stack, when the little girl approached us. She was staring at the pop-up book, “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” It comes with a CD of Peter Yarrow singing the song, of course. You can take Grandma out of the ’60s, but…

“Do you like dinosaurs?” I asked the little girl. She smiled and nodded. Her mother, wearing the universal look of worry that her child was intruding, called out her name. The girl rushed to her mother’s side.

A few minutes later, the mother started reading in a loud, animated voice to the little girl, who was now sitting in her lap. The child held the book as her mother spoke in Spanish, her arms waving as she read. I looked at the cover of the book and saw that it was written in English.

Well, then.

Clearly, this woman wasn’t a younger version of me. She was smarter — and braver, too. I always used to read aloud in whispers at the bookstore, afraid of drawing a chorus of “sh-h-h-.” There is no way I ever could have translated as I read. English is the only language I really know.

I watched the mother with a combination of awe and envy. What a lucky little girl.

12 Responses to Connie Schultz: Bilingual Superiority

  1. I learned French and German at school. In those days, just after WW2, I never imagined I would ever get to travel beyond the British Isles. How wrong I was, and how valuable those languages have been in Europe. An English person travelling to France will find a totally different reception to a French speaking visitor. The French are paranoid about their language becoming ‘Franglais’. Travelling to French speaking African countries has presented no problems in communication. Some French and German speaking ex colonies present more of a welcome to people who share their common tongue.
    A ‘smattering’ of Arabic has also opened many doors which would otherwise have remained closed. Being a polyglot definitely has its advantages.

  2. As a father of three children 2 girls and a son, born to my wife who is a Korean-American whom, I met and married while stationed in Korea back in the 70s. She insisted on raising them to be bilingual so they could communicate with her parents and Aunts and Uncles, and as she explained it would open more doors for them in the future, if they wished to work in companies that dealt in both countries, Yes, English is their primary language but they are all fluent in Korean both reading and language, which is not a simple feat.

    Being able to communicate with other people in their native language improves the ability to do business with them and to share and bond in ways that people who need interpreters will never be able to accomplish. My son is completing his assignment to the 8th Army and has enjoyed his past year in Korea and his time spent with his mothers family, and being able to fit into the local community with his cousins, he has been offered many business opportunities that would send him back and forth, paying him much more than he would normally earn due to his language skills, and his security clearances. Speaking and reading other languages is a very useful ability and instead of looking down our nose at people that speak spanish or othe rlanguages as a primary language is wrong, yes they should learn English if they are going to live and work in the United States, it opens so many more doors.

    Education is a great thing, being able to think, speak and read multiple languages is a very useful talent.

  3. My late parents who were born in Egypt spoke 5-6 languages before heading to Australia in the early 1950s. I read and write Greek, English and understand Spanish. I find Greek a very important language as it underpins the European languages.

  4. My parents were immigrants from Portugal and we could only speak Portuguese at home so when I went to a Catholic grammer school I had to learn English from the nuns as though I was an immigrant child. As a result I am fluent in Portuguese and speak and understand a lot of Spanish and Italian because of being fluent in Portuguese. As a result it has helped me with my Insurance and Real Estate Business. I agree that knowing more than English is a big advantage in life. I would like to teach my grandchildren how to speak Portuguese but I do not think they are interested. I have many customers that are Portuguese speaking from Portugal, Brazil and Cape Verde and I enjoy speaking Portuguese very very much.

  5. knowing more that one language also helps the brain. it creates more pathways and connections. an interesting study would be the effects of stroke on people with more than one language vs. just one. and what about alzheimer’s? hmmm
    it’s sad that we are about the only country that doesn’t encourage–nay, require–learning other languages at an early age, when they are learned most easily.

  6. I am not a conservative clamoring for english to be the official language. But, what you described here is a Mexican student who will not achieve in school because she has a poor grasp of english. The southwest US is full of them. These same students go on as their parents – poor education, living of the social network and living in the poorest parts of the city. The cycle continues. We do need to learn another language. But, our schools teach in the english language. Without that skill, you hurt youself and every other student in that classroom. Simply because those without english skills require an inordinate amount of special time resulting in less time for the mainstream students.

    I to grew up with German spoken around my home and in my extended family. But, we learned english as our first language and German was considered a second language. Yes, I have largely lost speaking my second language but still understand some of it. That is probably my fault for not pursuing the language academically. As she stated, we wanted to be Americans so we learned the english language. That is the difference between the Mexicans and us.

  7. My Grandfather didn’t speak English, yet all of his children were bilingual. My father spoke Italian in the home until he left home at age 15 (1929). In the 1960’s I would ask my Father and his siblings to teach me Italian. The answer was always the same, “No, you won’t be American”. My father spoke English just like any other “good ol’ boy” hillbilly and when we would visit his father, my dad would speak to him in English with Italian words and phrases, Grand Pa would speak in Italian with a smattering of English words. I have always felt like I was cheated for not being taught Italian. I learned just 10 years ago, that when they said “American”, they meant “White”. The reason I believe that Hispanics still speak Spanish 3 & 4 generations later, is two fold: There are always new comers and the need for translation. And proximity, their native country is just next door. With the Europeans, Asians, and other places separated by oceans, there proximity is much greater and there are not the flood of new comers.

  8. Bilingualism can be very important in intellectual, academic and practical ways, but a person needs to work to acquire all four language skills, speaking, reading, writing and understanding the spoken language. One needs to work for formal accuracy and fluency since “heritage” languages spoken at home are sometimes not very correct. Most everyone could benefit from learning a second languge, and we need speakers of many languages, not just those spoken by our closest neighbors.

  9. Being bilingual is wonderful,BUT if you chose to live in the United States of America your first and primary language MUST be ENGLISH, if you do not accept that principal then you should return to your native land.
    My Grandmother came to the US after graduating from high school in Europe, she was stubborn and never tried to master English. Her Grandchildren could never get close to her and share life because you were on pins and needles, worrying that you might say something wrong or offensive to her.
    Conversely my other Grandparents spoke English and we enjoyed a very close and loving relationship.

  10. I believe it is great if you understand more than one language, BUT if you don’t speak, read and write in English… I won’t hire you.

  11. A little off topic but…..My grandmother (born 1884) was a schoolteacher. She graduated from Elmira College in 1906 with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Languages. She knew (and taught) French, German and Latin in a one room schoolhouse. Of course, she also taught English, Mathematics, and all the other required courses of the day. She was the smartest person I have ever met. I wonder how many of today’s teachers know these languages and could teach them plus all the math courses up through calculus plus history and general English…. More on topic-my x-boyfriend’s parents came from Italy and he and his sister never could speak Italian around his parents. They wanted him to be AMERICAN!

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