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Losing Your Parents' Language
Thread poster: Diana Coada

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Portuguese to English
+ ...
May 2, 2012

Radio Four programme concerning the concept of a mother tongue. It is fascinating to hear both sides of the story.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01gg7fy


 

Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
I had to go this route May 2, 2012

I also heard part of the programme (on a real radio receiver) and then tried to listen to the whole of it via the Internet. The route (within the BBC web site) that I first tried seemed to be correct, but absolutely no sound was produced. The same happened with the link given by Diana.
I eventually (on Monday night) found a way to hear it, using this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01gg7fy/Word_of_Mouth_Losing_Your_Parents_Language/

My problem might be related to the software that I am using, e.g. which extensions and plug-ins are installed with my copy of the FireFox browser.

Oliver


 

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@ Oliver May 2, 2012

Sorry to hear that. I had no problems here (I'm using Chrome).

 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Hebrew to English
Great broadcast! May 2, 2012

Thanks Diana! Really interesting...

For those interested, the poem read out in the first few minutes of the broadcast is here:

Mother Tongue by Dean Atta

Our mother has swallowed her tongue
Though selfish is never a word I could call mum
I feel she has been so by swallowing her tongue
To make it worse, our family holidays are always to her motherland
She forgets to translate even though she knows we don’t understand
My sister and I, make do and get by on the meaning we can infer
From gestures and inflection, can never look to mum for direction
Mother has swallowed her tongue, shows no regrets on reflection
Stubborn, she refuses to see that she has wronged us not to teach
To give us the option, the basic right, of freedom of speech
With our grandparents, our aunts, uncles and our cousins

There are few shortcuts to understanding
Common language is a good paving stone
So when you can’t speak the language of love
You realise you may be walking this path alone
Made in England, we’re half this and half that
But they could more easily overlook that fact
If we could speak with our mother’s tongue
Not let our skin speak for us
But join in the family chorus
I can’t tell you why she would wilfully deny
Her daughter and her son
But she has swallowed it
And we are struck dumb
Our mother has swallowed her tongue.
http://jcwi.org.uk/2012/01/20/dean-atta-two-tongues-are-better-than-one/


 

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I loved the poem! May 2, 2012

And it was sad to see how a parent basically willingfully ''denied'' them knowledge.

Personally, I imagine my future kids learning Romanian and Portuguese with me, English at school and Greek from my partnericon_smile.gif


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Hebrew to English
A balanced view May 2, 2012

I suppose there are concerns amongst some immigrant parents, who'd rather their children assimilate into the host culture and who are willing to sacrifice passing on their language to achieve that aim. I wouldn't criticise them for that, they are their children to raise as they wish. If a child of a bilingual family truly craves the language, they can still learn it (with the advantage of having the language at least partly hardwired into their minds).

To be fair, you do hear some stories of children having a language "forced" upon them by their parents...who usually grow up totally eschewing the language in response.

I thought the English/German guy was interesting....who noted that his German/English bilingual friend wasn't truly "perfect" in both languages and that his English was just "a bit off". I have found this to be the case even with so-called "true" bilinguals - they almost always tend to have a dominant language - whether they admit it or not. It was interesting that the English/German had no regrets growing up monolingual and was happy to have learned German as an adult.


[Edited at 2012-05-02 12:30 GMT]


 

Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:14
German to English
+ ...
I have not found that to be true. May 2, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:

a child of a bilingual family truly craves the language, they can still learn it (with the advantage of having the language at least partly hardwired into their minds).


Depends. If you speak a language of limited diffusion - in my case Latvian - your kids will have a pretty difficult time learning it later. The opportunities to learn Latvian here in the United States (or anywhere outside Latvia) are very limited. That is why I am teaching my kids as much as I can now while they are younger. I have a few friends who learned as teens but they are very much the exception, and it was a hard slog.

To be fair, you do hear some stories of children having a language "forced" upon them by their parents...who usually grow up totally eschewing the language in response.


I grew up bilingual in the United States, and never once in my 40 years has anyone said to me that they regretted being taught their heritage language, but very frequently people complain to me that they were not taught.


 

Romane237
Local time: 20:14
English to French
Being bilingual is a chance if the child deems his parents' language worthy May 2, 2012

I agree that bilingual individuals are rarely perfect in both languages.
I myself sometimes search for French words when I speak with my French relatives because on a daily basis I am immersed in English language. At the same time, I know many monolingual individuals whose grasp of French is poor compared to mine.

Learning languages should not have a competitive aspect. There has to be a different purpose : transmitting one's identity, advancing one's career, communicating with specific people, etc.

The emotional connection is decisive in my view. That is why I encourage any willing parent to transmitt their mother tongue to their children. However, this encouragement is only valid when parents have one single language. Should the parents have 2+ languages that they want to impart on the child, I would say no. I'd rather they choose one and stick to it. Transmitting one's identity is one thing, leaving the child confused is another.

Last but not least, no matter how difficult the language is, it is ultimately up to the child (future adult) to define his/her identity. Your teaching skills will not automatically appear in your child's life. At the end of the day, languages are just one component of one's identity.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Hebrew to English
Just a matter of experiences May 2, 2012

Daina Jauntirans wrote:

Ty Kendall wrote:

a child of a bilingual family truly craves the language, they can still learn it (with the advantage of having the language at least partly hardwired into their minds).


Depends. If you speak a language of limited diffusion - in my case Latvian - your kids will have a pretty difficult time learning it later. The opportunities to learn Latvian here in the United States (or anywhere outside Latvia) are very limited. That is why I am teaching my kids as much as I can now while they are younger. I have a few friends who learned as teens but they are very much the exception, and it was a hard slog.

To be fair, you do hear some stories of children having a language "forced" upon them by their parents...who usually grow up totally eschewing the language in response.


I grew up bilingual in the United States, and never once in my 40 years has anyone said to me that they regretted being taught their heritage language, but very frequently people complain to me that they were not taught.


We have clearly had very different experiences. There are hoardes of Pakistani/Indian immigrants here whose children really do resent being "force-fed" the languages of the Indian sub-continent*. I've even met children of immigrants who simply pretend not to speak another language (despite the fact they do).

In addition, I did a short stint as an au-pair for some Israelis in England. Their children were born and raised (for the first 5 years) in England. Despite the fact they could understand Hebrew, getting them to speak it was like getting blood out of a stone. They have since moved back to Israel and I have no doubt the situation will have changed now, but I think we should (as Linguists ourselves) be wary of the belief that our children will inherit our love of languages. Some will, but others will not.

Whilst I might frown at a parent's decision not to at least try to teach their child their language, I also have reservations of many linguists 'experimenting' with their children's linguistic upbringing. I'm quite ambivalent about it.

*Conversely, there are also many who enjoy, and demand access to their ancestral language.

What concerns me is the presumption that all children will benefit and prefer to be taught their parents language. I don't think it's that simple. Indeed the English/German guy from the broadcast attests to this.

In addition, it's always easier to regret something you never had...those children who were taught the language, but don't really care, don't use it in adulthood probably don't protest as loudly.

[Edited at 2012-05-02 15:32 GMT]


 

Hege Jakobsen Lepri  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:14
Member (2002)
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Benefits May 2, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:







What concerns me is the presumption that all children will benefit and prefer to be taught their parents language. I don't think it's that simple. Indeed the English/German guy from the broadcast attests to this.



[Edited at 2012-05-02 15:32 GMT]


Well, there's that little issue of a large body of research proving the positive cognitive effects.

I guess it depends on how you define "benefit".
Cognitively, yes, there is a benefit, and in most cases, there's also a positive psychological effect that comes with having a real relationship with your grandparents, uncles, aunts etc.
Of course there are families where it often would seem better to not understand all that is said, but generally I believe that if the relationship is damaging/abusive, it'd be better to withdraw completely than to just withdraw your children linguistically.

What the child prefers and what benefits the child are usually two completely different issues - as anyone with teenagers know full well.

Fortunately my girls never objected to speaking neither their mother- nor father tongue (Norwegian and Italian - while living in Canada), and at 14 and 19 they're very aware of the benefits of being multilingual - both from a personal/psychological, and a professional point of view.


 

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Fully agree with Hege May 2, 2012

And Ty, I did not mean I would force my languages upon my children. I would however speak to them in those languages only (they can answer in whatever language they like) so that they grow up being able to at least understand their grandparents and having some sense of heritage.

 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Hebrew to English
@Hege May 2, 2012

I am well aware of the research you refer to. However, I was talking about the presumption that children will benefit from learning their parents language(s), rather than the benefit of bilingualism/multilingualism per se. I believe they are quite separate issues. (In addition, I believe there is still much research to be done in the area before we can be so sure of consequences, good or bad).

For example, whilst the recent wave of cognitive research supports the benefit of bilingualism, there's still a lot of other areas to consider, psychological, social, cultural, linguistic. More research needs to be done in all these areas.

@ Diana
I didn't specifically have translators in mind with that comment. Although I'm sure many translators can be included in it. As I said, I'm not against it either, I may well raise my future children bilingual (although I'd want English to be their dominant language), I just have some reservations about how some people go about it.

[Edited at 2012-05-02 18:01 GMT]


 

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Ty May 2, 2012

Well, I felt you might have directed your comment at me, especially after my accusation of that lady in the interview!icon_biggrin.gif

 

Hege Jakobsen Lepri  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:14
Member (2002)
English to Norwegian
+ ...
I'm trying to imagine May 2, 2012

what possible negative psychological and social effects learning your parents' language may have.

"feeling disgusted because I understand what my dad's swearing really means"

"realizing my uncle really is a moron, he doesn't just look it"

"it is so embarrassing to be the only one who's able to roll his r-s in Spanish class"


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Hebrew to English
Worlds apart May 2, 2012

Hege Jakobsen Lepri wrote:

what possible negative psychological and social effects learning your parents' language may have.

"feeling disgusted because I understand what my dad's swearing really means"

"realizing my uncle really is a moron, he doesn't just look it"

"it is so embarrassing to be the only one who's able to roll his r-s in Spanish class"


I don't think we're on the same page.

It's not that I don't see the benefits (as I said....twice), it's just that in immigrant circumstances, the passing on of one's language to any children born in the host country is not a simple equation of thinking about the obvious rewards of bilingualism.

Some parents will want their children to be as assimilated as possible, some parents won't want to pass on their language....for whatever reason (and there are a myriad of reasons).

What possible negative effects? You don't have much of an imagination do you?
Dual-identity can open up a can of worms regarding negative psychological and social ramifications.

It also depends on the language being passed on in some respects.

I don't know if you listened to the whole thing, but the English/German guy - his dad didn't want to pass German on to his son, in part because of the negative associations of German with Nazism after the war (and since).
I'd be surprised if this hasn't happened in many other cases too (with other languages for other similar reasons).

It's possible that, in the current climate, there are people raising their children ignorant of Arabic, given the current hostility to Arabic speakers (a negative social ramification - parents may worry that if they raise their children Arabic speakers, they may face adversity in social situations they otherwise wouldn't). Who knows? It's possible (and that was my point- just that it's possible).

My point being that we shouldn't condemn parents who choose not to pass on their language and look at them as if they are committing some act of child abuse. They may have their reasons, just as the parents who do pass the language on do.

The children may grow up resentful or not, but I'm sure the parents who raise their children without their language do so in the belief they are doing what's best for their child.


 
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