A Tale of Two Languages

Written By: Grace Cross
Editor of The Baby Spot

Like so many Canadians, I was raised in a different culture from the area I was living in. Many Canadians like myself, are teaching their children more than one language. But the second language is just not that, it is incorporating a culture into your household. A culture that is not surrounding you on the streets. In my friend circles, in my extended family and more, I was too French to be English and too English to be French. I believe that many people all over the world, have experienced this to varying degrees, many more difficult than my own. Here is my story as to why, no matter what, teaching your child a part of their culture is so important.

Growing up with two parents who were from Quebec but lived in Toronto was quite different than the typical Ontario home. We celebrated holidays differently, we were raised differently and we even used different words for the most random things! My parents tried to go back to Quebec as often as they could so we can be with family and friends.

 Like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, I often felt I had my own two metropolis to grow up in, except mine were not in London and Paris but in Toronto and Montreal. Those 6 hours on the 401 separated two completely different cultures that could very well be two different countries. I had an experience where I was growing up in Toronto but would be in Montreal. I would know the hottest restaurants in Montreal, the hidden shopping gems and all of the coolest hang outs just like a Montrealer, but I could not speak the language fluently until I was an adult. I would make mistakes, stumble upon my words and would gravitate to my extended family to help, so I could learn more of my past.

I had two types of family members in my big family. The first were so loving and accepting. I would sit and listen to them as they, like many Montrealers would switch from English to French with ease. It was bilingual heaven and I would pick up on a word here and word there. It was better than any French class Ontario had to offer and I was learning the slang, key words and expressions that go along with French. In turn, my French family would use this as an opportunity to practice their English on a native English speaker. Even as a child, I felt pretty special to fill them in on the latest English terms and phrases that may have confused them.

The second type of family members were not so nice. They used French as a leverage language and would laugh at my mistakes. Instead of comforting, they would point out each mistake, the accent of every word said wrong. I would study constantly the language and speak to my French teachers after class in Ontario to try to learn as much as I could for my next class in Montreal. Many of our French teachers were not French but they did their best. My parents tried their best too, but over time, they began losing the language. I would use my opportunities to be with my family. Instead, they would point out in French all of your mistakes and laugh with ridicule. It made me insecure about a language I wanted to learn and was a part of my ancestors.

Secondly, in Ontario, we are taught Parisian French. However, in Quebec, they speak a different dialect. This can create problems and some of my family took it to make jokes at a young girl. I was as young as five when this began. Instead, I would be insecure to speak French and took my sights to learn another language all together. By the time I was 21, I had taken years of Japanese and spoke Japanese better than French.

I ended up learning French in adulthood with some amazing courses and sticking with the family who was encouraging and literally not speaking to the ones that were not. The insecurity did not lie with a five year old girl learning a language, but with them.

Now that I am a Mom, my child is learning French. I encourage mistakes and let my child absorb the language. Strangers and good family alike in Montreal are the reasons for my little one’s easy transition into a fantastic language and culture.

For some of us who are not born in the area that our family is from and carry many traditions, values but do not have the day to day interaction with the language, we are not English enough, but not from our original culture either. There are some of you out there whose children are learning about three or four different cultures. There may be people trying to tell you how to parent your child or believe that one culture is more important than another. Those people may believe you don’t belong to a culture that you have been immersed in. Remember, no one can take away your past. No one can define you based on their own constrictions. You know who you are.

So if you are a parent whose child has one, two or ten cultures from their ancestry, embrace it! Enjoy what defines you and your family. Be proud of where your family lineage is and be proud to live where you are now. Surround yourself with positive people, make new friends and most of all, love that you are incredible enough that you don’t belong to just one place. You are your own tale in two cities.


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