Update from Italy: Growing with Language

Photo by Emily Levine on Unsplash

Vic: Why I have to have a videolezione that starts at 9:30!
Me: You have to learn. You haven’t been to school since March 4.
Vic: They’ll add an hour to it when we are supposed to finish! (This had, in fact, happened just the day before.)
Me. Welcome to the word, kid.
Vic: (Putting on the gamer headset Jason bought him for quarantine; it looks like a carnival ride) Oh, it is English. This will be easy.
Me: Things are getting better every day!
Vic: Mommy, do you see this teacher? This is the one you say messes up all the words and does not know English.
Me: VIC TURN YOUR MIC OFF PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR MIC IS OFF. IS YOUR MIC ON!?

The Italian teachers of English language are not C-2 level. I don’t think native speakers ever proof their assignments or corrections, resulting in famous incorrect corrections such as “I got my hairs cut.” Incorrect corrections all over the place. Worksheets provided for the students to complete, rife with errors. As a person who has plowed hours into language learning and instruction, I can honestly say that I will always ask a native speaker to proofread or verify anything I write in Spanish, French, or Italian. They are not my mother tongues. I have a mother; she speaks English, and only English. I was in my mid-twenties before I accepted that I could not reinvent myself form the ground up, starting with language, for the simple fact that I cannot rewrite my personal history in the U.S. Midwest with two American parents, much less twenty-one years of education, primarily in English, save for three semesters in Europe and six semesters of the Spanish graduate degree. I am who I am. I am in English, with new things added. Extra lenses, additional layers.

We pay modest tuition plus an upgrade for enrichment English here – a newly-formed class meant to target native speakers. Don’t screw it up, please; we speak English at home, but our child needs to learn to write and read. You or mai best friend. All this what you said? and I hadded a popsicle? that Victor and Eleanor say. I will correct the kids gently until they remember this time fondly as a lovely linguistic chapter that they experienced together as children. What you did? What you said? I hadded a dream. I love Victor’s spoken grammar and orthography, but I know this will all come back to bite him if he does not even see it the right way. I tell him now, look Vic, it is super cute, but I don’t want anyone ever to make fun of you for saying things incorrectly in English. EVER.

An amusing aside to this is Victor’s response to British English. He quickly wearied of the tyranny and now refers to it as Brat English. (I find this hilarious, and I love you, England.) In some ways Florence holds high and yet the gold standard of RBP (received British pronunciation), and Victor rebels. He does not appreciate being made to feel like some barbarian from a colonial outpost. Isn’t it funny that Brit and brat are so close? he will say. Well, Victor, I respond. Both versions are valid, but yes, in the EU, the UK version might hold a bit more sway. Followed by a long discussion about why we say “I don’t have,” and not “I have got,” in our house.

I have been on every side of this issue. I have unintentionally sounded like a child in a language I was trying to speak. I have shed bitter tears in different ages after failing to communicate well, or correctly, or being judged for my language. I cannot have Victor be taught English incorrectly only to run around speaking like an unwitting caricature when he is doing his level best, totally unaware of how his language differs. He’s got linguists and language learners for parents; we will address it candidly. Victor and Eleanor are living a very specific type of childhood, between cultures, and they won’t be able to rewrite it. The years are now being etched. Jason and I always say that the way in which we are able to raise our children, with a virtually pain-free bilingualism supporting their curious and flexible minds, is the one way in which we have been able to level up as parents from the upbringing we received in our childhoods. I hope we are right on this one. I think we are, but I really hope they agree in about 15 years.

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