I have a new article up on The Good Men Project, Raising Trilingual Kids in America. It’s about my attempt with my wife to teach our children to speak (and read) Lithuanian and Russian alongside English.
One of the things I found attractive about my wife, beside her violin playing abilities and her energy as an artist, was her capacity to learn languages, and her fluency in five. I consider languages to be treasures, and if I met a djinni, I’d ask to become fluent in every language that has ever been spoken on earth, even dead languages like Prussian. I can’t explain this fascination. It’s similar to my obsession with planting a garden. I don’t take for granted the human capacity for communication, flawed as it is, and I have never heard a language that I found ugly or crass. I remember sleeping in an airport one time and listening to a group of very tired Moroccan men speaking Arabic together. It sounded like a train ride, long and romantic, through an orange and brown mountain range of ancient rocks.
My daughter has learned more Lithuanian before her fourth birthday than I knew before my fifth, and she certainly knows more English than I did as a toddler (I knew virtually none). Some of the ways she translates language have really educated me about the syntax of English and Lithuanian, and the meanings of certain words. I can’t explain them here without going through a long explication of now negatives work in Lithuanian, and how the concept of “sense” is communicated in my old, archaic language. But I’ll say this: you don’t really understand what language you speak until you try to learn a second one. If there’s any universal, absolute value to learning another language its that you realize the one you’ve grown up with isn’t normal, and that many of the assumptions you have about reality are completely artificial, often based on the syntax you have at your disposal. Alan Watts talks about this in his lectures Learning the Human Game.
So far, the lessons dad has gained in the process are so much bigger than the ones my kids have gathered. I’ll be presenting those lessons in my memoir about PTSD. This article is a warm-up of sorts to some of the topics I’ll be covering.
I hope you enjoy and share it.