When people ask me what language I learned first as a child, I find that question difficult to answer one way or another. The fact is both my parents had recently left Europe when I was born a mere few weeks later in the United States. I assume that I heard them speak both languages (Greek and English) and just used English more during my scholastic years. It actually wasn’t until my early twenties that I had a renewed interest in speaking more Greek among my peers when I joined young adult groups through the Greek Orthodox church. I was thankful that my mother had instilled a basic vocabulary in me so that I could build on it.
After I found out I was pregnant with my son back in 2007, I knew immediately that I wanted to speak to him in Greek. When folks would ask me if I would I answered them affirmatively. Then I realized that I did know a little bit of French from my school years and would also like to share that language with him while also learning more myself.
The first year of my son’s life I found it quite easy to settle into speaking Greek to him when home alone with him. Usually my words were simple and sentences short, I figured this would be easier than I thought. How silly right?
Now as my son has barreled past his 2-year-old birthday, I have begun to realize my limitations. Reading his English books have become a little more complicated in Greek, explaining things around us like a mini-lecture series for toddlers has also become dicey in Greek. In fact, I’ve been humbled by the fact that my vocabulary is limited in Greek and now I need to learn more. So together I’ve sat with my son through Greek video or computer programs. My mother-in-love sent us the Rosetta Stone for Greek.
As my son T.A. spouts out words in both English and Greek everyday, my husband and I find ourselves going to “school” at night with our educational assistance. It turns out that teaching your child another language benefits yourself as well.
I still share some French with my son and am blessed by the fact that there are loved ones in his life that also know French like his great Aunt and music teacher. I have asked these ladies to let loose in French to him, I suspect it’s also been great practice for them.
Then there is the peer exposure. My son and I have started a friendship this summer with another mother and son–the mother is from Slovakia. She and I continue to chat in English while we also speak our Greek and Slovakian to our sons together. We have noticed how the boys have swapped some words with each other and use them in their limited toddler conversations. “Kok” means kick in Slovakian and my son says it repeatedly now when we go swimming in the pool and ocean. I get a kick out of the fact that my son is speaking even one or two words of Slovakian without me even trying to teach him.
If you haven’t begun another language for your child or children, it’s never too late. What’s better is if you participate in their learning process, even if you have a foreknowledge of the language. I believe there are only benefits to knowing another language or two or three, et cetera.
Many in the U.S. will pick Spanish as a second language to teach their children, that’s not a bad thing but it’s also not the only language you need to consider. Try to pick something you and your partner in parenting will both be enthusiastic about so that the child(ren) will sense that this is something worthy to know and speak.
There is so much I can say on this subject but I just wanted to get the message out that teaching your kids more than just English is really a great idea and promotes extra-curricular education for both you and your child. We have so many resources at hand now, like children videos, computer software and even classes for little ones pre-kindergarten. If you have older kids, pick a country/region you would really like to vacation to one day as a family and make it a goal to learn that language on a conversational level. Bilingual education is most effective when it becomes an activity involving the entire family, not just sending the kids to a language class in school.