Du lait s’il vous plait.” Milk please,” my daughter requested at school yesterday. In French. Unprompted.
Baby Bird has been attending two half-days of French preschool. She has only been to preschool six times and is already asking milk in French. Not that I’m surprised. Language is her strong suit. She LOVES books and reading, and this is a skillset Big Papa and I encourage. Plus, Baby Bird spent the first year of her life hearing Armenian being spoken, so her brain is already wired with the capability to acquire another language quickly.
I don’t have many regrets in my life, but one is that I wish I was fluent in another language. I know a bit of French and Dutch, and a handful of Armenian words and phrases.
When I was in school, we didn’t have the option to learn a language until high school. By then, the idea that “milk” is called milk, is pretty well solidified in one’s brain. I studied French during my junior and senior years, which has helped me read menus, ask for directions, and order meals at restaurants when in France. But what I’d really like to be able to do, is have a conversation.
My junior year in college, I spent a semester in Amsterdam. In the six months I lived there, I was able to speak (and understand) more Dutch than I ever managed with French, even though I had studied it for two years. Being immersed in the culture, seeing and hearing the same words and sounds every day, fostered a much quicker acquisition of the language. This is one of the reasons why I enrolled our daughter in French school: I wanted her to have the opportunity to learn another language, and begin as soon as possible.
Baby Bird’s language immersion is also an opportunity for me to dip my toes back in the water. Her preschool also offers French language classes for parents and I plan to sign up. I know I am at a disadvantage, trying to pick up language skills later in life. And to be honest, I’m a bit envious of my daughter, being able to start at two-years-old. But, I still want to try to learn as much as I can.
The other reason why I enrolled our daughter in French language school, is that I also hope she will learn to speak Armenian, the language of her birth country. Our local Armenian church offers language classes for children (and adults), beginning at age six. I know that if her brain learns to speak and understand both English and French, that picking up Armenian will be much easier. My set-in-its-ways brain will have a much greater challenge, but I intend to give it a go.
In a world that is increasingly global and multicultural, I am still amazed (and disappointed) that here in the U.S., learning another language isn’t viewed as a necessary skill. In many countries, children learn at least one additional language, and they begin their studies at a very young age. And while more public schools in the U.S. have begun to offer a wider choice of language classes (such as Japanese or Russian), I still believe we don’t start soon enough.
I know that becoming a multilingual society isn’t going to fix all the world’s problems, but it’s one step forward. Because once we comprehend that milk isn’t always called milk outside the U.S., the greater the likelihood we’ll be able to understand the nuances behind the words, and the lives of the people that speak them.
Take the road less traveled, Beth
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