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?
Budget & the Beach says
I only know English as well, sadly, although just a few words here and there in Italian, French, and Spanish. Of all those languages, French really stuck out to me as one I really liked. It’s aways been on my list (albeit at the bottom of my list) to become fluent in French, although Spanish would probably come in more handy here. I’ve never used rosetta stone, but i hear great things, although it’s expensive!
I wonder if its expensive because it claims to be effective? When I go travelling, I think about just going to the library and borrowing some cds and books to learn the basics of the country’s language. BUT if I spent the money for Rosetta Stone, maybe I would actually use it because I would feel guilty for spending so much money. Haha.
At least you admit it! Seriously, so many Americans just say what’s the point of learning another language when everybody knows English. Sad…
I feel a lot of Canadians are the same way regarding French. They’re like well only people in Quebec speak French and they don’t really count. It is indeed sad…Guess they don’t want to be put in the time and effort it takes to learn a language. It;s a lot more difficult to learn when you’re older, unless you learned it when you were younger and then are looking to pick it up again.
Yes, and unfortunately, this attitude gets passed down from the parents to the kids..it’s a never-ending cycle.
I’m mostly uni-lingual. I was pretty good at German in high school, so can still understand the tourists enough to help direct them when they get lost on the way to the beach, but I am far from being able to go watch a movie and understand everything.
But I’m pretty fluent in numbers and sometimes feel like the language of finance is complicated enough that mastering it should count as another language, too!
I agree with you on non-country languages actually counting as languages. I took piano for several years growing up and when I explained to my bf certain things about reading music and its symbols, he said it was like a completely differently language!
I’m monolingual, too. I’m working on it, though. I used to be bilingual, with French. But you don’t use it you lose it. I’m in school to get my fluency up in American Sign Language so I can interpret again. I have a hard time considering myself fluent, though. With any language, really. I’m super judgmental of myself if it’s not my native language. Which, obviously, nothing else can ever be.
It’s definitely hard to keep the fluency up if no one around you speaks the language. That’s awesome you know ASL. That seems like a difficult language to l earn!
Good for you! I really should go about setting a language goal myself. I do like to think I thrive on multi-tasking and taking on new challenges, but with having two jobs, blogging, my sister’s wedding next year and taking an online course for work, actually attempting to start that language goal will have to put on the back burner for now.
My parents were the opposite. They were quite confident that I would learn English just find in school so they taught me the minimum and otherwise, only conversed with me in Vietnamese. They still do 🙂 So I have passable Vietnamese, although I find that I occasionally have an English accent while speaking it. I also took German on and off throughout school, so can manage with that as well. Brian speaks English and French. It’s really great for travelling!
From the way it sounds, German seems like a hard language to learn. Its great you guys can speak all those languages between the two of you!
DC @ Young Adult Money says
I’m unilingual and not too worried about not knowing how to speak a second language. The more I look into it, the more benefits there are to being bilingual. I really considered learning Spanish recently (I spent years learning it in grade/high school but never fully learned it) but I just can’t seem to find the time. There seems to always be something else that has a higher priority (learning skills that will help with my current full-time job, working on my website, reading/learning new things, spending time with family/friends, etc.).
It sounds like learning French could benefit you in your full-time position, though, since you work for the federal government. At minimum, it sounds like it will help your confidence and even potentially open up new doors. I would go for it if I were you.
Thanks for the vote of confidence DC! 🙂 Like you, I feel like I am juggling a lot of things already. I am currently taking an online distance ed course for work that work is paying for. Perhaps once I complete the courses required for that certificate, I will look into taking French language courses. And hopefully work will pay for those as well. 🙂
I think you and I are definitely on the same page. I definitely rejected my heritage while younger and as an older, slightly wiser me have come to regret it! Multilinguality is such a bonus especially if you are not Caucasian in a predominantly white world. Sometimes I resent it (I’m a New Zealander and you shouldn’t assume otherwise!) and at others feel like a failure to my culture, as if I have a responsibility to represent it (when somebody at work needs something translated and I can’t help).
My bilingual skills only relate to getting through an eye exam. In Spanish, I can say, “Sit here please, Don’t look at the light, You need or don’t need glasses, Is it better at #1 or #2.” In Navajo, I can say “Hello, look up and look down,”, and I can order bread and cheese and say I don’t understand in French. That’s about it. I actually took a Spanish class at the community college a few years ago, but didn’t pick up any conversational Spanish. I need to be immersed and that isn’ going to happen any time soon. I wish I’d paid more attention when I was younger.
Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial says
For all practical purposes, I’m unilingual and I’m pretty embarrassed by it, if only because I think I’ve taken a total of about 4 years of Spanish! I started in middle school, took one year in high school, and then did two in college. I can actually read and write in Spanish well, but when it comes to speaking it.. forget it. I freeze up and my mind goes blank when I’m addressed in Spanish or asked to speak something in the language. I think it’s mostly because I’m so concerned my accent is so horrible I’ll offend native speakers with it/flat-out embarrass myself. But lately I’ve been really determined to become more fluent and get better at speaking aloud. DuoLingo is an awesome and free resource for languages (especially if you already have a bit of a grasp on a different language), and I’ve been using that a little every day for about a week now. I also am looking into stuff like Rosetta Stone, but I know the best way to truly learn a language is full immersion. I’m hoping I can do that someday, too!