Lögberg-Heimskringla - 03.10.1963, Blaðsíða 5

Lögberg-Heimskringla - 03.10.1963, Blaðsíða 5
LÖGBERG-HEIMSKRINGLA, FIMMTUDAGINN 3. OKTÓBER 1963 5 Bringing Up Children Bilingually By George O. Tolten Dr. Anders K. Orvin, in his capacily of Director of the Norwegian Polar Insti- tute, directed Norway's par- licipation in the Internation- al - Geophysical - Year P r o - gram, Lasl year he was one of Norway's representatives to the conference in Wash- inglon which formulated the new intemational lreaty re- garding the Aniarclic. When people hear that my wife and I, both of us bom in America, are bringing up our children bilingually with Swedish and English, most of them think it is a wonderful idea. There is, however, a small minority who claim this might somehow h i n d e r a Child’s development, but this opinion is not generally held to be valid. On the contrary, learning two languages is thought to confer many bene- fits. And it is therefore our hope that many Americans with some foreign background who have or expect children may want to know how we have done it. It is easy to write up a recipe for some exotic dish. You just list the ingredlents and describe the process of preparation and cooking. But in bringing up children to speak another language, you have to take into account the special conditions in each fam- ily. I will describe our experi- ence as one case, but will try to point out at the same táme the general requirements and problems. The first question, of course, is whether it is worth-while having a second language in the home. What good is it? In the case of French, German, Spanish, or Russian it is ob- vious that it could greatly help the child in school and college. But what about a lan- guage like Swedish, which only eight million Swedes sp>eak and which is taught in relatively few American schools? From my own ex- perience I would say that it brings cultural enrichment, family solidarity, a greater appreciation of American and world culture, and an almost inexpressible satisf a c t i o n. Language is not an end in itself but a vehicle for be- coming part of another people and thereby becoming a big- ger person. Furthermore, ac- quiring a language in child- hood is the only painless way of avoiding the agonizing hours otf repeating infantile phrases when beginning the study of a foreign language as an adult. Besides, child- hood is about the only time When most of us can leam another language without a tell-tale American accent. A point that should be em- phasized here is that leaming another language does not re- duee one’s abílity in one’s na- tive tongue. Linguists agree that each new language you earn makes it easier to learn another, but most people do not understand this. Com- mand of another t o n g u e makes one more sensitive to nuances and more aware of how to manipulate language as sueh, including one’s own. A case in point is Carl Sand- burg, who learned Swedish in his childhood. Our own ex- perience also serves to bear this out. When registering our older daughter, Vicken, in kindergarten, my wife was a s k e d what language was spoken at home. When she replied “Swedish”, the regis- trar started to write down, “Weak in English”. Actually, a reading readiness test we had just given to Vicken showed that her vocabulary and grasp of English were far superior to those of most chil- dren in her age group. Al- though she has above average intelligence, we have reason to believe that k n o w i n g Swedish “synonyms” for most of her English words also in- creases her English vocabu- lary. Many of our acquaintances f r o m bilingual households make no attempt to pass on their second languages to their children. Because they acquired it painlessly some of them are really unaware of how hard it is to learn a lan- guage when they are older. Others are trying to escape their foreign background un- der what is to my mind the erroneous assumption t h a t they are thereby becoming better Americans. But they only become narrower Ameri- cans. Others are too cowed by their children and shut up like clams when their chil- dren shout at them, “Don’t talk that funny talk!” The ways in which my wife and I acquired our Swedish in childhood are relevant to our decision to bring up our children bilingually. My wife’s background is less un- usual than mine. Both of her parents were among the last wave of Swedish emigrants to Minnesota, and she grew up in the small town of .Warren where at that time most of the neighbors spoke Swedish and the minister preached in that language. In the last dec- ade, of course, this has almost entirely changed. You have to tune in Chicago for a Swed- ish sermon, and my wife’s mother speaks English to most Of her acquaintances now. As- trid’s next younger sister is less fluent in Swedish, and her youngest one (now in gradu- ate school) refuses to say a word in Swedish though her comprehension even in writ- ten Swedish is good. This is a typical pattem in the “great melting pot”. Too many of the vitamins are boiled out. My wife Astrid is now a rarity even for a blonde, blue- eyed second-generation Swed- ish-American. Her Swedish is fluent. Her mother’s decision to use only Swedish at home was based on her desire to íave her daughter speak per- fect English! She reasoned that since she knew English so poorly, but Swedish per- fectly, she would speak Swed- ish at home and let the pub- lic school environment teach her daughter English. A trip to Sweden for a year when Astrid was five and six ce- mented her Swedish in the language-learning years. The first grade in school took care of her “American”. As a re- sult Astrid speaks both lan- guages without an accent, un- like a number of second- and even third-generation Swed- ish-Americans, who k n o w only a few words of Swedish. While Astrid was learning to read English in school, her mother sat down with her now and then and pointed out the different sound values of the alphabet in Swedish. With the beckoning w e a 11 h of Swedish books at home, from the classics to modern maga- zines, Astrid has grown up with Swedish literature. That I speak Swedish is more unusual, because my fa- ther, an American of many generations, never learned a word of Swedish. My Swedish background came through my mother who met and married my father while she was on a tour of the United States with an exhibit of her sculp- ture. Being born and brought up in Washington, D.C., where there was no Swedish com- munity, I heard Swedish only from Swedish visitors at our home. I first got a basis in Swedish during a summer spent in Sweden when I was just tuming eight. After that, although we had a Swedish cook for a time, my opportu- nities for talking Swedish were few and far between. Since the common bond of a Swedish background was one of the factors that brought my wife and me together in the first place, I made an at- tempt to improve my Swedish and bring it up to an adult level. I bought a grammar to study before we took a be- lated honeymoon to Sweden to visit our countless relatives. Later I sat in on a Swedish course and thus I was some- what linguistically prepared When our daughter Vicken be- gan to learn to talk. To begin with I was very skeptical that we could ever get her to speak Swedish in an American milieu with no Swedish playmates. It was thus a great thrill when she began to prattle and things came out in Swedish. It made me really. conscious of how, important and powerful a par- ent is in the life of a little child. AU those S w e d i s h words came from no one else but Astrid and me. Soon, however, we got re- inforcements. Little Vicken begin to visit Astrid’s parents for part of each summer in Minnesota. Since there were practically no local playmates in her age group, Vicken heard only Swedish for long periods. Later, when Vicken was three, an aunt of mine from Sweden came to stay with us for a c o u p 1 e of months. She could hardly speak any English and Vicken felt important and useful in translatdng for her when nec- essary. Later again, a cousin of Astrid’s also visited us from Sweden accompanied by her mother who knew not a word of English. These visits had the effect of convincing Vick- en that Swedish was of some use and that somewhere far off everybody spoke Swedish even on the streets! When Vicken was only one year old, I sent to Sweden for a catalogue of children’s books. I ordered Einar Nehr- man’s Gubbar i rim and the treasury of children’s poems and stories, Min skattkam- mare. Vicken loved to be read to; so reading to her in Swed- ish combined her motivation with the learning process. As a result she knows most of these children’s verses by heart. Since they are some- thing which Swedes have much more in common than we have Mother Goose rhymes, Vicken now has a cultural bond which will al- ways be a source of pleasure, and she can in time pass on to her children at least two cultures. We have built up a sizable library of children’s books of ali sorts, from Elsa Beskow’s old-fashioned Puttes aventyr i blabarskogen to Astrid Lind- gren’s high-wide - and - hand- some Pippi Langstrump. Vick- en has almost as many Swed- ish as English books. For a while I would translate Eng- lish books into Swedish as I read, but soon Vicken learned which were written in which language and would insist on their being read in the orig- inal. All this reading of chil- dren’s books out loud in Swed- ish has been wonderful for my Swedish in developing a vocabulary, in fluency and command of the idiom. At the same time I read adult novels in Swedish to myself for pleasure, eschewing a diction- ary as much as possible, be- Framhald á bls. 6. 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