Monday, October 13, 2008

The Language Bug Bites

Yes, I'm still working on the next installment of my Italy journal, but I'll interrupt that for a moment with a bit of the present. It seems that while the kids had previously understood in the abstract sense that speaking another language was A Good Thing, it was not until we spent almost a month in a country where English was not the major language that they really got it. There were many times in Italy when I was the only one who could communicate fully, although both of the kids learned enough Italian to say some basics - hi, bye, please, thanks, good evening, how are you? etc. and this got them lots of smiles and affection from many people there. Personally, I think it's a must when you travel to a country to at least be able to do this much - the little polite words that let people know that you are in their country, not some tourist Disneyland extension of America.

Although most people in the big cities spoke at least a very reasonable amount of English, it wasn't necessarily that way in the smaller towns and rural areas that we passed through, especially while biking. So the kids saw first-hand that the time I had put in learning to at least communicate in my rudimentary Italian was really important. There were at least a couple times that it was actually vital to us either discovering where we actually were, or where we needed to be going.

So now that we're back, the entire rest of the family has gotten the language bug. Asa has decided she needs to learn French, and Wayne and Mackenzie are ready to tackle the much-more-practical Spanish. Fortunately for us, our library has a very good foreign language learning section (from which I derived all of my Italian language resources, I even read "A Friend for Dragon" and other kids books in Italian while I was learning, I'm struggling through the first Harry Potter book right now). We also have a French-speaking family in our neighborhood, whom we've been friends with for years, and many Spanish speakers (as well as my ever-helpful Mario, who I've been peppering with my Italian questions). So the kids are planning to hit these folks up for help and conversation.

When I was in high school and college, I knew in a vague way that it was a good idea to learn a foreign language, not to mention a requirement for graduation. But the fact that I didn't choose Spanish (I took Latin and French) shows how poorly I understood either the relevance or the necessity of such a thing. I'm glad that we could show the kids by example how to be good world citizens, how to walk gently into another culture instead of carrying your own like a banner to plant, and how important language is to communicating with people who live in different places around the world. I'm excited to revive my French and re-learn alongside Asa, and maybe pick up some Spanish along the way with the boys as well. If we ever make it back to Europe, we'll be well set for the Romance languages at least!

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