Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Being Bilingual

Being bilingual is such an awesome privilege! But it's one that most Americans don't really understand. The vast majority of Americans are monolingual, speaking and understanding only one language; English. I was among them, even though I studied German in high school and college. If I had had the opportunity, I would have been able to get by in Germany with my limited knowledge of the language. But it wouldn't have made me comfortable!

After college, I began to study linguistics and a whole new world opened up to me. My next step was to learn a little bit of a language that was very different from any I had ever encountered. I did OK, and I seemed to have a knack for understanding the meaning the other speaker was trying to communicate even though I didn't really understand the words. But I digress...

My husband and I started on our journey to becoming bilingual when we arrived in Brazil in 1974. After two weeks in the country, we moved in with a Brazilian family who spoke only Portuguese. Believe me, that was NOT comfortable. But we knew that the only way to really learn the language was to immerse ourselves in it. It was incredibly taxing and tiring to struggle to understand  and communicate in a language we were just barely learning. But it was one of the best decisions we could ever have made and it put us way ahead in our understanding not only of the language, but also the culture of the people of Brazil.

Fast forward to our children - they had the "misfortune" of living in an American/British missionary community where English was the language of choice. So we had to be proactive in exposing them to Portuguese. We sent them to Portuguese speaking preschool. Our son learned how to mix all of his food into one homogeneous mixture on his plate before he ate but not much Portuguese and he beseeched me daily with his big, round eyes to come back and get him soon. Our daughter who was a little older, went to school kicking and screaming every day, but in spite of that, developed a passionate love for Portuguese, Brazil and everything Brazilian. She also managed to become truly bilingual.

Fast forward again to our third son - he was almost 7 years younger than our middle son and even though by this time we were living in a place that allowed him to have much more interaction and exposure to Portuguese, he was not learning it well. So we debated about putting him into a Brazilian school for 4th grade. I sought John's counsel. He was the one who had pleaded with me not to leave him very long at the preschool. He said, "Mom, I would give an arm and a leg to be able to speak Portuguese well." That sealed it. Off to a Brazilian school for our 4th grader. He learned Portuguese well enough to have pretty flawless pronunciation and took it upon himself to correct ours at every opportunity.

Fast forward yet again to our grandson - our expectation was that he would grow up learning both languages at the same time; English from his mother and Portuguese from his Brazilian father. That expectation was dashed when his father left when our grandson was just beginning to talk. So we now have a 5 year old who needs to learn Portuguese and who isn't the least bit interested in doing so. Now what? We are looking for a way to endow him with the incredible gift of being a bilingual. We're starting to speak Portuguese for at least part of the time during every meal. Since our grandson loves to talk, something is bound to happen.

By the way, our own Portuguese improved dramatically when we invited a young Brazilian woman to come and stay with us for awhile. She came intending to stay for about a month to six weeks and ended up living with us for 4 years instead. Maybe we need to do that again.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Remember 9/11

The image is forever burned into my memory. We were in a very remote little town in Brazil visiting a pastor and his family and had just returned from a spin around the town. Suddenly our host rushed out of the house shouting, "Come quick, come quick. Something terrible is happening." We ran in and watched the television screen in horror. We could barely grasp what we were seeing. Within a minute or two we watched as a plane flew into the second tower. How was this possible? Wasn't this America? Nothing of this magnitude had ever happened before in our great "land of the free" and "home of the brave." How could it be happening now? It was impossible to comprehend. Our hosts were horrified and dumbfounded as well. Seemingly, this invincible giant called America wasn't really invincible after all. It was all being played out right before our eyes on the TV screen.

The atmosphere became one of somber reflection rather like that of a funeral. Was the America we knew now dead and gone? Would the American people really rise up and rout the forces attempting to destroy it from within? Only time would tell what the implications and ramifications of this historic event would be.

The immediate response was a spirit of courage, compassion, neighborliness and love that rose up among the people, not only of New York, but all over the country. It was demonstrated vividly by so many who gave their time, resources, energy and even their lives on behalf of others. Churches opened their doors and throngs turned to God for answers.

Now 10 years later, it seems as though the Trojan army hidden within the "horse" is winning. In the name of tolerance, God is being forced out of our schools, our military, our important events, our lives. In a country that was founded by people who sought freedom of religion, we now have organizations with names like "Freedom From Religion." The faith that made America great and the faith that equipped the nation to deal with such a tragic event as 9/11 is being stripped away and we don't know how it is happening. There seems to be freedom for all religions except Christianity in this land that was founded on the principles that all Christians hold dear.

But there is hope. I believe that even though we as a nation may be facing even darker hours than that of 9/11, God still stands ready to bless America. We must do our part to compassionately and kindly stand up for what is right and true in the same way that many of our forefathers did. Are there enough Americans left who truly believe that America is worth fighting for? Worth living for? Worth dying for? Only time will tell...
We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.
     Franklin Delano Roosevelt