I only speak English, and over the past year or so, I've become embarrassed to say that.
Okay, so I know that English is one of the more dominant languages in the world and I can acknowledge that I'm lucky to be a native-English speaker. But at the same time, I feel very disadvantaged that I don't know another language. Hi, my name is Lisa, and I am linguistically inept.
In one particular conversation with another parent who was born in Sweden (speaks Swedish), spent time in the US, and teaches Spanish (that's three languages he's mastered), he pointed out that I grew up in an environment where I didn't need to learn another language. Wow, it was obvious, but not obvious to me until that point. It's true. Although I appreciate where my childhood roots are and the environment I was raised it, I also am really sad to remember how barren the culturally-diverse landscape was. But I mean in terms of language. I'm looking back as a native English speaker wishing that I had learned another language, and not just the last-minute-cram-for-the-Spanish-vocabulary-quiz kind of learning. That I would have sought out opportunities to feel a bit uncomfortable, where I probably would have learned the beauty of being immersed in a culture and language far from my familiar and thus allowing me to really learn how to speak another language.
When traveling through Europe recently, I tried to do very little talking to others outside my family. I listened to a few words in French with an iphone app, and repeated them aloud on the train on our way to Paris. That was the extent of my language lesson. I picked up a few words in the market near our flat in Rome. However, I really tried not to talk. I looked silly. I looked like a weirdo making hand gestures and pointing a lot (especially when I was pretty certain the other person didn't speak much English), and then immediately saying something in English to confirm he/she had understood me. I smiled a lot and became "great" at saying grazi and merci. But I knew once I said caio, I became exposed. I'm sure I was way off from the true pronunciation. And at the moment, I wanted to apologize for being an American. A tourist. An American tourist who doesn't speak anything but English (but I didn't know how to say that in Italian). Of course I was treated kindly and with a bit of sympathy due to my lack of language knowledge by most people. It would have been lovely to know what was said by that older man and then those elderly women who smiled generously at our daughters and spoke soft, full Italian words while brushing them on their cheek or nose. I heard a few bella's, so I felt okay with them continuing to heap sweet words onto my children.
Of course we could only pretend for so long. When the taxi driver asked, "where are you coming from?" Ben and I eagerly said, Doha, Qatar. We wanted that to be sufficient. We wanted to turn down the American glare glimmering off of our English accents. And so after a drawn-out pause knowing the driver was waiting for us to say, USA, we caved. We're from America. You can tell, right? We don't pass for Qataris yet, do we? =)
And after only a few days of crippling Italian words, I began to think about all of the people in my life who are non-native English speakers. In my head I told them how amazing they are, and told them how much I appreciate them. It's not easy to learn English. And then I thought about how many times I've spoken so quickly and in an all-assuming mode (as in, I assume you understand these English cliche phrases so I won't explain them) with someone whose primary language isn't English. I'm becoming more aware. And again, I'm also aware that I'm the one at such a disadvantage. Most of the people I know who speak more then one language have been doing so since infancy. Lucky them! Really.
Okay, so wrap it up, Collier...
I'm very, very glad that my children are hearing at least three different languages in so much of their day-to-day life. It is my wish for them to have the advantage and to see how wonderful languages are, and for them to speak in another language other then English. I am still hopeful of learning Spanish and speaking Spanish (my parents are great examples of not giving up on that goal)! If for one reason only to love the place we live right now, it is a love for the diverse languages in our city. It reminds me of how little I know of people and the world.