Our Lips are Sealed

Have a child, they said.

It’ll be a beautiful experience, they said.

Oh, you’ll get some opposition from family members about you teaching your child another language…

Wait, what?

I’m not a native Russian speaker. In fact, I know very little Russian though my vocabulary is growing by the week. Before I was pregnant, Maks and I decided to have our children would be bilingual. I would teach them English while he’ll speak mostly Russian or Ukrainian to them. So far it’s working. Bear is learning words in both Russian and English, with a bit of Ukrainian thrown in (for those new to this blog, Maks is Ukrainian. I consider our son to be a biracial Black Ukrainian child).

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This is an example of what Black Ukrainian looks like. 

That being said, it’s interesting that I’m staring to receive some pushback from certain members of my family. You see, despite my numerous issues with Maks’s family (namely his mother), there was never an issue if they were going to speak Russian to our children. If anything, I encouraged it. Yet, when it comes to me doing the same, my own family has an issue with it.

I had a conversation with my mother the other day and I told her I was taking a break from teaching Bear his colors in Russian so I could fix him lunch. To my surprise, she went off on a little tangent on how I shouldn’t do that, and that it would confuse him, and how English should be his first priority. She also mentioned how a friend of hers  with a Latino husband had a daughter who “picked up Spanish along the way” and she turned out fine.

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Of course, my mother’s reaction isn’t that surprising. She had a similar view with my sister-in-law, who’s Serbian, and she was teaching my niece and nephew a bit of German, since they’d lived in Germany at the time.

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My sister, Mary, and me at Thanksgiving 2015.

This does bring up a good point on interracial families and cultural differences. A lot of people when they think of interracial families, they think of a black and white pairing, despite Asian/white relationships are the most common. No one really thinks of the numerous other pairings – Latino/white, Latino/black, Asian/black, etc. That being said, no one really considers the unique and quite awesome culture differences and mash-ups, an interracial relationship can bring. Language is a part of that.

In defense of my mother, she grew up in a different time. She’d witnessed the Civil Rights movement firsthand and was very much a part of the Black Power Movement long before I made my debut. She’s also very conservative. So, while I’m understandably annoyed with her stance, I also have to swallow my emotions a bit (well, a lot since this is my mother) and see where she’s coming from.

As you get older, the speed in which you learn something diminishes. Think about it – something you picked up on right away when you were a teen or even in your early 20’s, you don’t really pick up on so quickly as you get older. I know many adults who are still trying to figure out how their smartphone works weeks later while many teens knew the ins and outs of the same phone by the end of the day.

So how does this relate to language? Easy. As you get older, the odds of you learning a second language with ease diminishes. Think about the time you went to college (if you did), and think about how many older people were in your foreign language class. Probably not that many, huh?

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There’s actually a lot of proof that a child learning a second language early in their life has tremendous benefits. We live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood and trust me when I say, my little Spanish has come in handy many times already. And with the racial makeup of the United States rapidly changing, it’s actually better for everyone to learn a second language.

In conclusion, I’m going to keep teaching my son both Russian and English. The goal is to eventually be fluent enough where we can speak predominant Russian at home.

What are your thoughts? I’ll leave you with this video of Bear and I teaching you Russian numbers.

 

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