MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Learning another language after turning 40 July 22, 2013

This blog post was written as part of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival for July. The topic for this month’s carnival is “Hidden Opportunities”. I wondered for a long time what is my hidden opportunity of being a multilingual family. And then it hit me: for me, learning a new language after turning 40, would not have happened if we didn’t walk the multilingual family route that we did. Here is the story of how it happened.

Chiapas, Mexico

In Mexico, where we attended a Spanish Language School.

I’ve always been a math + science kind of girl. Chosen profession? Electrical engineer. Since I grew up in South Africa, where it is normal to speak at least two languages, I had to learn English alongside Afrikaans. My lowest grade ever was for English. (You can probably guess that from all my grammatical errors on this blog! Sorry!)

Fast forward 10 years. After giving birth to our two girls, I made a career switch to being an entrepreneur, so that I can work from home and determine my own hours. My chosen business? Printing words from around the world on t-shirts and other apparel. Suddenly, I’m reading papers written by linguists, and researching translations of life-affirming words.

Fast forward another few years: Our youngest daughter starts school right when the public school opens a class for Two Way Bilingual Immersion. We reason that adding a third language, Spanish, to our household can’t be too difficult, and will only have positive possibilities for her in life. And so starts our multilingual family journey.

Since our daughter learns to read and write in Spanish, it only makes sense that the rest of the family learn Spanish too. So we spend 3 glorious summer months in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, at a wonderful language school where I finally expand my Spanish knowledge beyond the colors of the rainbow and the parts of my body.

Fast forward another couple of years. We move to Nashville, Tennessee, where there is no possibility of Spanish Immersion for our daughter – because of a combination of Tennessee law which states that 51% of education has to be in English, and because the only Spanish (semi) Immersion school in Nashville accepts on the basis of a lottery, which happened many months before we even knew that we would move to Nashville. So now our kids go to school in English, and I continue my Spanish lessons.

In the past year, I’ve discovered that even though I struggle to remember new words, and even though it is hard to remember the difference between cuarto and cuadro and cuatro, I love to learn another language. I can now follow simple conversations. I can even speak a little bit, as long as no irregular verbs in the past tense are involved. And I look forward to traveling to a Spanish speaking country sometime soon, and not having to ask my 9-year-old to translate for me.

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2 Responses to “Learning another language after turning 40”

  1. […] how she has benefitted from having a multilingual daughter in her article called Learning Another Language After Turning 40.  She might be a bit slower than her daughter, but she’ll get there […]

  2. […] Learning another language after turning 40 (mothertonguesblog.com) […]


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