Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

Wow, you speak two languages?! —Well, yes, but so do you, don’t you.

Today at the library, some young girls (eleven years old or so) overheard Amy and me talking English to each other and were amazed that someone that age could speak English so well.

When I spoke with them, I learned that they were all (theoretically) trilingual themselves: one spoke Polish natively, German since coming here two years ago, and was learning English; one spoke Turkish and German, and was learning English; and the third spoke German and learned English and French.

So one of them was natively bilingual while the other at least had a reasonable command of two languages (her German seemed pretty decent, though not perfect—and she admits it took a lot of work to get there, telling me how she was jealous of the children who got to play during the summer holidays while she worked on her German, so that she wouldn’t have to do two years of the special school for learning German she had been in the year before but could switch to a regular school after the holidays).

Anyway, my point is that several times so far, people who have been amazed at Amy’s abilities are themselves bilingual.

I wonder whether this is because English is a prestige language, which they consider more “worthwhile” then their second language? Or the fact that English is (for people still in school) a school subject, where competence translates into a better mark? Because to me, a six-year-old speaking English in Germany shouldn’t be any more amazing than a six-year-old speaking Turkish or Polish (or Russian, or Albanian, or Zulu, or any other language not native to Germany).

Still, it seems to be English that intrigues people more.

(I’ll admit that it is handy knowing English in today’s world: so having that be her second language will confer her some practical advantages that many other second languages would not.)

Back to the specific situation, the Turkish girl said that Turkish was her weaker language: her father is from Turkey and her mother is Turkish (born in Germany), but they mostly speak German at home, so she’s still learning Turkish and her vocabulary is not as extensive as in German. Still, I always like hearing about families passing on their language to their children in some measure. (I asked her whether she could also read Turkish, and she said she thought she could, but she didn’t want to demonstrate with a couple of Turkish children’s books that were handy there: too shy, she said.)

Tags: amy, bilingualism, language
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