A pink taxi

A pink taxi

November 21, 2010

Growing up Polyglot

Most Lebanese are trilingual. Our kids, of Afghan father and Lebanese mother, are versed in four languages. I hope they will pick up another two along the way. Mandarin and Russian would be a challenge for them, Japanese a cool tool. But I know that I am being an overly ambitious mother. I think Farsi, Arabic, French and English would suffice for the time being!

I have made it  a point to never speak a word of English to my children, although it is arguably the language I am most fluent in. I know they will eventually learn English by living in this globalized world of ours. When they were babies, my terms of endearment were in Farsi, and I transitioned to French or Arabic when they reached preschool. There was a time in my family's history when I spoke three different languages to three different children: French to the eldest who goes to a Lycee, Arabic to the second who was attending an Arabic preschool at the time, and Farsi to the third, still my baby. My Farsi level fizzles at the preschool level.

It goes without saying that each language has its own approach. French has to be addressed though its main artery: conjugaison. If you cannot conjugate French verbs , that sound Latin and complicated with its thousands of irregularities, you cannot speak French.

Arabic is no longer a daunting idiom for me. My youngest son speaks the classical version of it and believes it is his secret language with his mother and grandfather. He loves the colorful Arabic books I read to him at bedtime. The books have evolved since my youth, when they were still dull and serious books I never cared to open. Reading in Arabic is still a challenge for me, but I am learning with him. I think children books have enough vocabulary to make any person adult or child versatile in that specific language. My husband always says that he learned French 8 years ago when our eldest began to speak it! He can now order anything he wants at La Petite Maison...in French!

Currently, my older kids are schooled in four languages. They have managed to master them withouth mixing them up. Let us take Farsi and Arabic for example. My five year old daughter understands that they have the same script but she is capable of differentiating the two languages. She has a new drawer in her brain for new farsi vocabulary and I am hoping that the drawer is padded with all the Farsi I spoke to her in her first two years of life. Perhaps it sinks with more ease because she hears it around her  in Dubai quite a bit.

I unfortunately was not as lucky with Spanish and Italian. While I was majoring in Latin American Literature, which required mastering  academic Spanish, I could read Spanish books and write essays, however, I took a silly chance and enrolled in intensive Italian my senior year. My Spanish degenerated and my Italian went nowhere!

It is therefore safe to advise against any language study choice under the pretext that you know a similar one: I also learned my lesson the hard way when I tried to study Turkish.....because it sounds like a mixture of Arabic and Farsi. But I have already posted on that topic! Instead, I will leave it to my children to grasp as many languages as they can, while their minds are still agile and open.

1 comment:

  1. We are living in a unipolar world politically,militarily and linguistically!English has taken over after WW2,and became prominent and foremost with the technological revolution of the 80s!
    Having Arabic as my mother tongue,studying the language in an Arab school,gave me the advantage of dreaming in Arabic,and expressing my political fears in the same language.
    It was mid school that brought English en force at a Quaker's School in Lebanon and at the American U until post graduate.Then entering the business world makes it a must to use English as lingua franca.
    It was through marriage that I was forced to tune my ears to Farsi,an easy language to speak if you know Arabic well,and you are trained to listen to your wife's orders all day long!
    It was French that I wrestled with,as a third language,because it is almost a miracle to learn it after your brain gets molded into Arabic and English.I used to listen to my children getting tortured with the French system,when I ventured into French to tutor them in maths and calcul mentale!It was not until I owned a summer home in France,that I plunged by necessity into the beautiful rosey language,learning all the technical words while renovating my house.The next stage was getting subscribed in summer to Le Monde,the holy grail of our blogger.Understanding 30% of what I read was a courageous endeavour.The French,ever proud of their language tend to dilute their hautiness(after all the word is high in French),by opening up to you if you communicate in their language.Mind you,even the waiter or the plumber will always correct your grammar whenever he has the chance.
    The new generation is geared into English because of the new educational technology,and the other languages will eventually fade away.Did you know that there are more children in China and India learning English today,than children in the anglosaxon world put together?