What Did You Say?

Today’s piece is by a guest contributor, The “Rushing” Russian Mama

As I say to my sweet angel: “Idi cyida, docha” I see some other moms on the playground looking at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Oh, wait! That’s because I am speaking a foreign language to her. The best part of it all is that she understands me completely and that makes me so happy. We now share a special bond between us that is going to be there for a lifetime. In my home we speak Russian and English regularly. That is because I am originally from Russia and my husband is an American. We have an amazing blended family where cultures are combined to create a beautiful combination.

Many people ask me if my daughter understands Russian and I proudly respond that not only does she understand it, but she also speaks it. I believe that it is important for a child to know her culture and history, whatever it may be. I know that here, in sunny Southern California, she may not get many opportunities to speak Russian, but that’s not what’s important to me. The important part is that she knows the language and is able to communicate in something other than English. In our multicultural world today, the ability to communicate with many diverse people will be more valuable than gold. I hear so many stories from immigrants who came in the 1950s and 1960s as children how their parents abandoned their native languages and spoke only English, even at home. There is so much regret that they are not able to speak the language of their ancestors because their family just wanted to fit in to the community. Today, there is a different approach to multicultural families. They are encouraged to teach kids more than one language, and it is a real advantage for them. According to an article I found on Webmd.com, “People who are bilingual have an advantage over the rest of us, and not just in terms of communication skills. The bilingual brain develops more densely, giving it an advantage in various abilities and skills, according to new research.”

There are many teaching programs out in the marketplace right now, such as “Your baby can read” and other similar to it, that claim that a child’s brain is undergoing a massive development before age five. I have heard of a child who was only five and spoke 6 languages. Why? Some say that kids’ brains are so flexible before the age of 10 that they can learn anything. I learned English as an adult and it was not easy at first. When I first learned to speak English, I had to translate everything in my head from English to Russian, then back to English before I could respond to a question or make a statement. Now my brain “thinks” in both languages. At times, I find myself being more comfortable using American colloquial expression that I am using Russian. And if you speak English to me after I just spoke Russian for a while, don’t be surprised if I answer you in Russian. Yet, what was hard for me comes so naturally to my sweet baby. She is like a sponge. Recently she started a new trend. When I ask her a Yes or No question and the answer is no, she says to me, “No, No, Nyet”. She is translating her answer for me in case I did not understand her the first time. For my sweet angel, speaking and knowing more than one language is not something unusual, but something “normal” (if there ever is such a thing).

So, I say to all of the parents out there: Let’s expose our kids to different cultures and languages. They deserve a world without limits, and we can start them on that road now by teaching them to speak more than one language. And I guarantee that your kids will hear Russian when they are around my family, so come on by.