About ten years ago, I read Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. I enjoyed it enough that I still remember quite a few details and would probably read it again if I had a copy of it in front of me. The protagonist, Rob Fleming, is a Peter Pan sort of character: he owns a record store, has commitment issues, and spends most of his time compiling his Top Five lists. Top Five Most Memorable Break-Ups, Top Five Subtitled Movies, Top Five Elvis Costello Films…you get the idea.
They changed his name (Rob Gordon) and location (Chicago), but the movie version of High Fidelity starring John Cusack is actually quite good (Image courtesy of Zap 2 It)
I tried to pick a few Top Five items since reading that book, and it’s much harder than one might think. Perhaps I was choosing the wrong categories, ones for which I don’t have very clear criteria for determining what’s good and what’s bad. Even when I am more certain of what I do or do like, it’s an agonizing task to try to whittle a list down to only five items.
Theoretical category: Five Books to Have When Stranded on a Deserted Island. Impossible! How can I chose only five? Should I chose the five longest books I know and haven’t read yet so they’ll provide more material for long, solitary days? But what if I hate them? But if I chose tried and true (read and loved?) books, won’t I get sick of them if that’s all I had to read for 20 or more years? Do I want to taint my memory of A Memorable Feast or The Hobbit? Continue reading
On Wednesday, I described some of the benefits of being bilingual, focusing mostly on possible cognitive advantages to growing up with two language. I believe in fairness, but even more than that, I do not think it’s possible to truly understand an issue without exploring it from as many sides as we can. So I set off to find some reasons why being bilingual may become a burden rather than a blessing to some. Continue reading
I have spent my life around different languages. At home, though I heard mostly English, there was plenty of Portuguese being thrown around, especially when my parents were talking about us. When I wasn’t at home, I was usually found at my best friend’s house, whose parents were francophone Quebecois. Another friend down the road lived with her Ukranian grandparents. I befriended the foreign students, starting with the little Italian girl who started school with us in 2nd grade. After all this, it should come as no surprise that I have spent the last 20 years focusing my attention on languages and linguistics.
When my oldest sisters started school, they spoke almost no English. After some time of watching her children become confused by hearing English at school and Portuguese at home, my mother decided that the best thing for the family would be to switch the home language to English. She did not want her children to have difficulty at school, and believed that dealing with two languages would only serve as a distraction and source of confusion for them. She wanted to make it easier to navigate this new culture and society she and my father had chosen to live in. As a result, I was born into a family that had made the transition almost completely into English, with the exception of certain kitchen commands, food terms, random traditional expressions, and ‘colorful’ phrases one would say when very angry at a small girl who has just broken the sugar bowl.
I get a bit enthusiastic about the dictionaries.
As a teenager and adult, I’ve had moderate success with second languages, but I longed for the same ease in another language as I have in English. I listen enviously to all the people I know who were lucky enough to have been brought up bilingual, and I wondered what prompted my mother – and many like her – to believe that maintaining her native language at home while her children learned English in school would have been a mistake. Continue reading