Tuesday, August 4, 2009

never too young or old to learn

I don't know if it's just me, or if some are more easily able to grasp a second language than others. Throughout grade school, we had 45 minutes of French class per day...for as long as I can remember! For years, we seemed to go over the same verbs, the same pronouns, the same phrases...my skills however never seeming to advance. We seemed to learn no more the next year than we had the previous leaving me still to confuse "tu a, il a, nous avons, vous avez" and "tu est, il est, nous etre, vous etre"...see?? Still confused! Living in a bilingual province, I learned later in adulthood just how necessary that second language would be, but ironically finding it even harder now as an adult to open up my brain and let it in. So how is it then, that a toddler can learn a second language and be fluent, in two years?

English is the primary language spoken in our home. Contrary to what one might think living in New Brunswick, Canada however, French is not the second language in our home. My husband, being German, speaks nothing but German to our toddler and he has since her birth. We wanted Lizzy's German heritage to have a big presence in her life and to ensure that she be able to communicate with her family in Germany. Some of my husband's brothers and sisters were able to study English from 5th grade up so altho maybe shy to do so, that is until watching me flounder in my amusing attempts at the German language, we do somehow miraculously manage when together. But we wanted Lizzy to be fluent and to really come to know and learn her dad's family.

My father-in-law spoke very little English, and my mother-in-law speaks none...zilch, zippo until deciding at the age of 67, that to be able to better communicate with her new daughter-in-law, she would enroll in an English class. That SO impressed me, that I upped my efforts in learning German. We do manage to get beyond the "mixed salat" somewhat, but it's a struggle. I know they have sat around the dining room table in Germany at 4 o'clock coffee and cake thoroughly entertained with my German attempts via fax being read aloud...and I've been told none of them sit with a straight face. My father-in-law would teach me all of the dialect from my husband's area, and altho it would make not much sense to someone from Hamburg, that was fine...they were not those I was wanting so desperately to communicate with. For sure they would never understand that Jaggermeister gave me a "carter". But you know, it's hard to learn another language! I'm so busy and there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all one wants to do!

Now Lizzy, 2 1/2 years old, is in her bathwater before bed this evening, and well...she burped. Immediately, she said "scuse me Mama"...then said "Chull gon". I said "pardon?". She repeated "Chull gon". I said "honey...mommy doesn't understand...what is Chull gon?". She looked at me like I should know and said "it's scuse me in German". Well...Entschuldigen! She's counting to 14 in German, singing German lullabies which Joe soothes her with at bedtime and expecting Mommy to repeat (not likely), when Mommy puts her to bed, she's handing me German fairy tales for me to read to her at bedtime and expecting everyone at daycare to understand her when she says she wants to "schowken" (dialect). Every instruction he gives her in German, every story he tells her, every word he utters to her in German, she can turn to me and switch without batting an eyelash, in her translation for me into English! It's nothing short of amazing to watch this little marvel at the ripe old age of two and a half years, communicate in a second language. And it only ashamedly proves to me that as adults, we can too. Without making a conscious effort to do so, she's taking it all in and learning. She knows no different therefor has no comparisons and probably more importantly, no inhibitions. She's not wondering how silly she sounds and her one and only focus is her need to communicate. Have you ever watched a group of toddlers together in play? It's a whole lot of googoo-gaga, but they all get it. And so it's got me to thinking...

I think I need to make some room...both in my brain, and in my outlook, and re-evaluate what I "can" or "can't" get or more accurately probably, what I'm 'open to' and 'not open to' learning. Maybe I need to start with a blank canvas, an open mind...a willingness to learn, and let a strong desire and need to communicate with and to learn those around me, be my guide. Whether it be in love, work or play, be it family, friend, foe or neighbour, communication is everything and well, I'm thinking if a two year old can do it...


Lizzy on her "schowken"... 

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