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Saturday, 13 March 2010


Language, what language do I speak to Birdy in..
My parents came here from England, and raised us in English. Hebrew was only learnt once we went to kindergarten/school. I actually don't recall going to gan (that's how we call kindergarten) and being frustrated at not understanding the language and what the others are saying (not saying I wasn't, I just don't remember anything regarding language [though I do have a memory from gan from that time. So maybe it wasn't an issue..]). So, as I said, English was spoken at home, between us kids and our parents and between us kids ourselves, and Hebrew was the language of the outer world. But slowly slowly, with socialization, Hebrew became the main language. Today it's English with parents, Hebrew with siblings.
My mother tongue and my first language are indeed English, but I am much better in Hebrew, though I do think and operate in both (I am bilingual). And sometimes it's half Hebrew half English, adding Hebrew suffixes to English words and vice versa (something that I think was done much more as a child). There's this story of how me and my friend went around houses to get them to donate for some cause [for the blind or deaf or something] and we came across this house where the owner spoke only English, no Hebrew, so my friend pushed me to do the talking (being the shy one, she mostly did the talking and I just stood by her side, collecting the money and giving the receipts..). Anyway, I go up to the woman and say to her - We are le'hatriming, and I don't understand why both the woman and my friend burst into laughter.. Didn't even realize I was adding an English suffix (ing) to a Hebrew word and calling it English.
But beyond mixing the languages, beyond sometimes having a word in language B while needing the word in language A, beyond that, being brought up with this second language was a dear gift my parents gave us/me. It has always been my asset, for one it's how social they are, for another it's how very smart they are, a third is very good at sports. I spoke English. And today it is my livelihood, as I teach English for a living.

And I want to speak English to my daughter, I mean I am going to speak to her in English! I am going to give her the gift of a second language (more so it being English, an international language spoken by many many people around the world).

But there is a downside to it. Like the fact that Hebrew she'll have to pick up from the outside. I think I was luck that as a child I loved reading and so I picked up good language from books, but I still had many gaps. Yes, today my Hebrew is by far better than my English, but I think as a child I either had more holes in Hebrew or they were more noticeable, and I do think I was/am lacking in both languages, but then again I do have these two languages (so my English could have been much much better had I been raised in a complete English environment, so...). And as much as I pride myself of knowing English, it is still kind of basic. I really don't know (or hardly know) English slang and do not have too high a language. I mean, how much language can one learn from just speaking with parents... (and some TV, but have the very bad habit of also reading the subtitles, hard to resist..). So if I speak to my daughter in English as I intend, I might give her a second language, but I won't be giving her richness in either language, more importantly in Hebrew, in the language of the environment, the language in which one interacts here. And I thinking for example of numbers, something that took me a long time to master and that I still do mistakes in [hmmmm... in Hebrew you have masculine numbers and feminine and it is when to use which type of number that is the issue. Will add that the vast majority of Israelis are very bad with numbers, but just because they have bad Hebrew doesn't mean I should too..]. And if I don't speak to her in Hebrew, she will probably not master the numbers correctly (more so as like I said above, most Israelis are terrible on this subject).
And another downside is reading books. I so want to read to her books, books with high language (you won't catch me dead reading those Disney books, for example. I really don't know how they are elsewhere, so I'm only speaking of the ones in Hebrew, but they are so terrible. Not to talk about the way they tell the story, not very storylike in my opinion). And yes, I want to read to her in Hebrew. I want to give her a register in Hebrew through books. And there are songs too. Songs for kids in Hebrew (which while I don't mind if in English or Hebrew, I know much more in Hebrew..), and Israeli folk songs that I love.
And of course the big question of where and how she will acquire Hebrew if English is the language I speak to her in. As I said in the beginning, I don't remember any difficulties about learning Hebrew, but I'm sure it wasn't easy. Going into this space where all kids speak a different language than you and neither can understand each other... And I know it is common for bilinguals to be late speakers (and I was a very late speaker). When I mentioned to sis #3 how I plan on doing baby sign language (though not fully, and not intensely. just here and there a few signs, but to sister I just mentioned the thought of BSL), she said how that would be too many languages for my girl. And yes, too many languages might be confusing, but I thing that in the long run the more the better.


Paige said...

What a wonderful gift to be able to give your daughter. I'm sure she'll have a fine time chirping away in both languages.

battynurse said...

I think it's great that you can speak two languages and that your going to share that with your daughter. Right now I'm truly wishing I had even taken a foreign language in school which I never did.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

It is a huge gift (and I'm so glad you said that about the numbers because I am TERRIBLE with numbers and the twins have corrected me). I think it's a big picture thing--looking at what you want to give your child deep into the future rather than what it will be like at age 2 or age 4, etc.

Jess said...

That is great that you can speak more than one language!! maybe speak to your daughter in both. If I could speak 2 different languages, I would teach my daughter both.