Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sprechen sie 中文?

Dear Self,

Despite the current joke, you were not raised in a Korean household.  Far from it, in fact.  The other day when you called your dad to see how he was doing, the Korean words were on your lips: "Apa, saranghaeyo."  But alas, it went unsaid - in Korean, that is.

However, isn't it strange in the first place that some little girl from Illinois whose parents were from Illinois whose parents were from Illinois - and it goes on like that for a few generations more - that you know any Korean at all?

Your parents, for the majority of your formative years, would have been classified as middle Americans: with high school diplomas and some college but no college degree*.  So this begs the question as to how it is in they would have children that would have invested time in learning (at least in part) the following languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese Sign Language, Croatian, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Taiwanese, Welsh**.

Truly, how did this happen?

So you recall the random language tapes you and your siblings would borrow over and over from the library that taught you how to sing, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "It's Raining, It's Pouring" in French, Spanish, German and Russian.  You remembered how a favorite family prayer song was, "All Around the World" in which you got to sing 'Thank you' in multiple languages.  Your family is also very big on using correct grammar and pronunciation of English so perhaps this is just a carry over into being interested in other languages and cultures as well.

But then one day, you find yourself in Nursery with a little 3 year old girl who you are trying to teach "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam" and you naturally use ASL signs as you try to help her learn the words.  The little girl follows and loves the sign for "Sunbeam" making this song one of her new favorites.... Wait, wasn't this a favorite childhood song for you too? and for the very same reason?

And then you remember that most people did not grow up in a household where the mother would teach her children to sing in ASL.  Or that in high school none of the rest of your volleyball teammates would have conversations with their mothers from across the gym.  Or that most extremely shy 4 year old little girls, when asked their name by adults would simply not respond rather than finger spell, as did your sister "E-L-I-Z-A-B-E-T-H" with her hand down near her side.

And then you realize that perhaps your family was more multi-lingual when you were growing up than you realized.  You grew up with a TTY telephone by your parents bedside and you knew exactly what to do when a Relay system called from a hearing impaired friend.  You spent much of your childhood watching your mother sing hymns in ASL and you would often join her, learning how to express the birth and life of Jesus Christ through your hands.  Your childhood also consisted of many ASL speaking friends moving in and out of your family's life - people with their own vibrant and dynamic language and culture.  And all this with a non-hearing-impaired mother.

What with your extensive traveling and intense foreign language training and your desire to integrate what you learn and love about the cultures you encounter into your own life, it seems you are not really so different from your parents after all.


1 comment:

  1. Way to call me out.
    It's true though, I never realized how big of a deal correct English is to us. Too bad I don't remember the ASL. I guess I'll just use Korean to comfort me.
    Side note: I'm typing this on Anna's phone and it took me at least a year and a half.