There are words that will always have a special joy, importance, or sentimental value in the language in which you first learned them. Amic, jocs, ávia and pa hold a special place in my heart because I shared them with friends, in the streets where I grew up, in the market where my mother went daily to buy what was needed for the day. Amigo, juegos, abuela and pan (friend, games, grandmother and bread) alternated in my speech depending where I was and whom I was speaking to. And that happened automatically depending the face I had in front, the habit that was established with this, that or another person, and the “atmosphere” of a given dialog. Catalan (or Valencian) and Spanish share a region of Spain in the South-East –Levante-, but did not use to share the same spaces as I was growing up. The language of school was Spanish and every educational law of that era forbid the use of any other language that was not Spanish. Very fortunately, times, laws and politicians change, and now my grand-nephews are learning in the same region of Levante, those two languages plus English, as part of the official curriculum, from Pre-kinder onwards. And they are doing well.
To know a language is a treasure that can, and should be maintained, and only takes a strong belief on its values to impose its practices in society. For me, growing up speaking more than one language has meant the freedom to move with ease from one community to another, to have friends that can share their thoughts as they come from their souls, with nothing lost in translation. It has given me a different look at people, customs, experiences, points of view, because I understand not only the words they pronounce but also the situations where they came from.
At a different level, growing up speaking different languages has given me a profound respect towards heritage, roots, celebrations, family and culture. I say as frequently as anybody want to hear it, that “You cannot have fruits if you do not have roots.” So, on the one hand there is the language one learns in the womb. The one a child spends the first years of his/her life hearing. The one that has emotions attached to each meaning. And then there is the language that helps us expand our lives, share with a larger community, learn new things. All are important, and for a child, all are easy to learn and maintain.
As I grew up, knowing several languages benefited me in applying and obtaining scholarships, in the jobs for which I had an advantage others didn’t have, the diversity of friends I cultivated, and the richness I received that by contrast strengthened my identity.
Knowledge is the best tool to succeed in life. Languages are the vehicles towards such success.
¡Y siempre la alegría!
- Guest Post: Growing Up Bilingual by F. Isabel Campoy - April 27, 2014