Wednesday, May 30, 2012


in school, as far as i can remember, we were all native english speakers learning french.  now, a different 'we' are a class with a majority of non-native english speakers learning danish, in english.  i'm of course, in the minority, along with four other students.  i don't know how much more difficult it makes learning danish for everyone else, if at all, because i'm not fluent in another language so i can't really imagine it.  i often fill in the missing pieces with french when i'm unsuccessfully trying to string together a danish sentence.  still, i've been out of french class for so long that i would probably struggle to string together a complete sentence in that language.  it's humbling to be learning danish next to classmates who are already fluent in two (or more) languages, and to think that the communication i've had with (nearly) every single person since i've been here, has worked, only because they are all fluent in more than one language, namely, english.  so of course we'd (not all. some.) think that in america we don't need to learn other languages-- because everyone speaks english (which of course isn't true).  but so frustrating too, that children have an innate capacity to learn more than one language and we don't, as a nation, take advantage of it.  i feel really lucky, but that's it, just really lucky, that henry and william will pick up another language.  i wish every kid in the u.s. could.  

there are signs that william is starting to internalize a little danish-- his new word: nej (pronounced "nye").  for the last day or two, he hasn't said, "no" but he's said a lot of "nej."  and henry's been practicing "hi" or maybe "hej"(pronounced "hi")-- hard to say which.  and i've started typing out my danish class novel, which i'm hoping will help me learn.  

rain today.  that's good.  but cold.  less good.  

quiet on the fjord... 

camouflaged swan...

sheep today...



nina said...

It's so very wonderful that your boys have this chance to be exposed to another language! It's not only about speaking another language. There has been much written about the benefits of learning to imagine the world in another language.

I learned English when I was 7 -- I learned by being thrown into an English speaking classroom. Such a fortunate thing it was!

Your boys will benefit from this forever after.

greg|regan said...


If you come back to this comment-- do you know how long it took for English to 'click' in your brain? Did it seem very gradual (like it probably does for someone like me learning Danish) or was it all of a sudden you realized you were understanding things?

nina said...

I was put in second grade knowing basically not more than a handful of words. If that. I know that the first months were miserable. I stuck to myself and occasionally sought out the maintenance worker who was of Polish descent and had a few Polish words that he could offer me.
By the middle of the year, our teacher said -- the school is starting a school-wide choir. Who here likes to sing? I raised my hand (the only one in class) and with that day, I began my six year stint in that choir (until we left to go back to Poland). I was a founding member!
In the winter I made a friend -- my BF -- I adored her. She was a sweet little girl from Romania. I think I had it basically in my head that I could more or less speak English by then.
By the end of that school year I was pretty much fluent. My parents sent me to sleep away camp for two months (they were not into babying us!) and I was like one of the kids. I still remember the songs I learned there, the kids, the whole bit.
I know that doesn't really answer your Q, but I would think that it actually was quite sudden. Several months of utter confusion and then, within a rapid set of days, the light bulb sort of went off!

What I find most difficult now, as an adult, is picking up and retaining vocabulary in a foreign language. I speak OK French and Italian, but it's school taught and it lacks that richness that would allow me to communicate freely when I am among those who are native speakers. The minute they use words I don't know, I'm stuck. If I ask them to repeat the thought, if they're smart about speaking to a foreigner, they'll use different words, but most often they just repeat what they said slowly and I will draw the same blank. As a kid, I would just pick up those new words like a sponge. Now it's much much harder.

We're going to France again next week and I expect I'll have my good days, but there will be many many times when I will remain clueless as to what is being said around me. Especially when it's rapid fire and heavily accented as it often is in the south. But, even at this level, I love the feeling that I can get by. That I can ask for information, convey a feeling, an impression, say a little about who we are and what we're doing there. I wish it were even more than that, but, these years, I'm happy just to maintain.

Because the worst thing about language is that you have to use it or you lose it.

greg|regan said...

Hi Nina,

Quite a childhood! 2 months at age 7 or 8! And regarding the language development-- that's sort of how I imagine it will happen to William-- one day he'll just sort of 'get it.'