Although my parents immigrated to Canada from a country where English and another language was officially spoken, they had chosen to only speak English to me growing up. They would converse to each other in their mother tongue and then switch to English when addressing me. To this day, I can still understand snippets of the mother tongue, but don’t even bother trying to ask me to speak it. I can barely form sentences, only words here and there.
Sometimes when people ask me what my background is, I get all smart ass and say I’m Canadian. But sometimes people tend to think if you’re not Caucasian and if your name doesn’t sound Anglo-Saxon, they don’t consider you that Canadian. Which of course doesn’t make sense, because Canadians, as well as Americans are of many different backgrounds. Unless you have native ancestry, your ancestors immigrated from the old country at some point. I guess I could have said I’m the hyphenated (insert parents’ background here) Canadian to be more accurate, but to be honest, I feel more Canadian than anything. I do say “eh” quite a bit.
I was quite good at French and got the invitation to be enrolled in the French Immersion program at a different school. My immediate answer? No. Why? I didn’t want to move to a different school and make new friends when I already had friends. Unlike the other extra curricular activities I was enrolled in and despised, looking back at it, I really wish my parents had pushed me to go. I had taken intermediate level French in university as an elective. I didn’t put too much effort into it and still wound up with an A. I could have had a minor in French, but I didn’t have that kind of foresight back then.
My sister and all my cousins are unilingual. We all grew up reading, writing and speaking English fluently and nothing else. I live in Ontario, so English is widely spoken. My unilingualism started to stand out during my first trip to Quebec City. Everyone was bilingual. I wanted to test how good I was conversing in French, but was very much afraid that they would find out I’m not even close to being fluent and then just switch back to English for the sake of simplicity. It was then I felt I could somewhat relate to how newcomers felt coming to a country and were hesitant to try out the country’s mother tongue. For fear of not being understood. For fear of miscommunication. For fear of possibly being looked down upon.
I felt the embarrassment of being unilingual even more when I backpacked through Western Europe. Everyone knew English and at least one other language. Many people I met were trilingual or multi-lingual. Needless to say, I was quite impressed. I knew the most French out of everyone I was traveling with, but I didn’t think that was enough. When I told people, I was from Canada, they automatically assumed I was fluent in French. After all, we are a bilingual country. Our food labels are bilingual. The instructions also come in French. But why is it that the majority of us know only English and basic French that was mandatory in grade school? I knew friends who automatically dropped French class after the first year of high school when they learned it was no longer mandatory. Living in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, for almost a year made me want to learn French all over again.
If our other official language was more abundant, more enforced, then maybe more people would appreciate it or make the effort to learn it. I work for the federal government, so I almost feel it’s my duty to know more French even though it’s not mandatory for my position.
Eddie over at Finance Fox mentioned some of the benefits of being bilingual in The Secret to Success in Life is Investing in Yourself. Every time I see that Rosetta Stone commercial on tv, I feel I can learn any language. I think people tend to look at you in a different light when they find out you’re bilingual.
Are you unilingual like me and wanting to change that? Or are you multi-lingual? Did you speak different languages in your household or was it through work and travel experiences? Has anyone ever used Rosetta Stone and benefitted from it?