Who was the first bilingual person you knew?
Some people live in areas where everyone is nearly a polyglot. Others can live their entire lives among people who only speak their own language.
Who was the first person you remember in your life who spoke more than one language fluently (not counting teachers at school...lol).
My very first boyfriend! I was almost four. He was five. He just moved to our city from Hong Kong and lived right next door to me. We liked each other instantly and at those young ages, from about 4-8 he taught me some Cantonese and how to play Chinese checkers and mahjong. I guess I played "Canadian" type of games with him, but what? -- I can't remember. Sometimes his language got mixed up with mine, and we were using expressions from each language. We was like peas and carrots.
One day his mom told my mom that he was "teaching me Chinese". My mom said to me, "Do you know Chinese??!!" I answered simply, "Yes." She said, "Well say something!" I did. (Can't remember what.) She said it was so funny. Apparently my being his friend helped him with English too.
He was my first friend, and he happened to be bilingual.
When he was about nine or ten, his family moved back to Hong Kong. Thanks to the internet and social media, we found each other when were were in our late-30s. He came back to Canada to visit old friends and family, and we went back to our old childhood street and took a selfie together in front of our two old houses.
We are still in touch today. :)
That's great. If more kids had experiences like that, the world would be a better place.
What great memories! I do miss having grown up among people of different cultures and languages so appreciate others' stories and memories of early exposure to non native languages.
Oh my, Marlana! So, after the gorgeous story about your precious granny, you decidely want to make me cry ;')
Geez, I just read my story again. I almost made myself cry. :'( I guess it is really sweet.
Thank you for taking the time to share the beautiful story with us, Marlana!
P.S. Why Ukrainian? :))
Same here: four grand-parents and mummy were bilinguals. Daddy was trilingual. All in all I was exposed from day 1 to french, dutch, luxemburger, spanish and brasilian portuguese. Then of course three languages are mandatory in school, personnally I had 4. I had also an italian grandpa but he never spoke italian with us. I can't remember who was the first person I met speaking another language. I think it was on holidays in Denmark in '76.
When I was 6 or 7 we had neighbors who immigrated from Germany. They'd invite us over for slide-show of Germany. I remember those evenings were interminable. About the 3rd time I made an important discovery that has served me well. "The obvious sometimes goes unnoticed." The room was dark but lit by a slide of some church and I effected my escape by simply walking towards the door and when no one said anything, I walked right out that door. BTW, the times I heard them speaking German, it scared me. It was not inspirational. I was kind of scared of the Germans and Japanese because of all the post war Hollywood movie stereotypes.
Next person I met who was bilingual was when I was in high school. My father attended University of Pittsburg seminar for executives around the world. He met a man from Tehran, Iran and brought him home for dinner. He got my full attention by describing Iran, some of his adventures there, riding donkeys and how to write my name in Fārsī. By that time I had read the Arabian Nights and was enthralled with the culture. A few years later after high school, it was time to head east, far far away. but that is another story and lifetime that ends here.
Wow! That is fascinating. I sometimes bemoan the fact that my family and life was so sheltered but I am sure it could be hard as a child to separated real people from imagined fears and stereotypes. Thanks so much for the interesting comment. I didn't have such experiences as a child so it's great to read of others'!
Does my family count? My parents speak English and Albanian fluently, and my mom speaks Italian and Spanish (although her Spanish is fading because she hasn't used it much). Other than my family, I don't really know... I live in America and it's pretty monolingual here.
Yep, you're right about the last part. Your family certainly does count! I might be overly envious because I had no other languages in my early life at all, but I'm sure there are challenges too in having different languages and cultures in your home.
Do you find it easier to learn the languages on DL since your parents speak them? I would think so but a lot of times what is taught officially is very different from what makes up normal everyday speech.
Do you have a preferred language that your family speaks at home? What about with friend? And what about you...what language do YOU like, if you could speak any of them and have everyone understand you?
I do find it easier to learn languages in general since I grew up around other languages, even though Albanian is not related to any other language very much. Even before i started Duolingo, I've always been really good in my Spanish class at school. My parents usually speak Albanian to each other and with the rest of the family, but they usually speak English with me and my brother. Sometimes they do talk to us in Albanian if it's stuff that we know. Sometimes my parents talk to each other in Albanian but have small bits in the middle where they speak English. As for that last question, I don't know... probably English because that's what I'm used to after all.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply (and for the hovering article on the other person's post too!!) I really find it interesting to imagine what it's like to live in a family with different languages being spoken and I enjoyed your comments here a lot.
When I was 7-9 I took karate class, and this girl joined she was younger than me by a few years and she spoke 3 languages fluently! (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) I just always thought that was the neatest thing.
Wow! I can only imagine how interesting that would have been. Just normal for you and for many people but not for me. There was a Japanese girl in my 5th grade class I remember now but she never spoke Japanese. At that time in midwestern US it was important to NOT be identified with a foreign culture, language, etc., sadly.
What is even more impressive is that her 4 year old sister was fluent in three languages as well!
I couldn't even speak my first words in my Native English until sometime between 3 and 4, I can't even imagine knowing three languages by then.
My mother. When she was a student in the university in the 1980s, she studied Russian, in order to work in a Russian-related field. She finally made it and spent one year abroad in Minsk (of the old USSR) in around 1989. In 1991, the Soviet Union crashed, which affected the status of Russian in third-world countries, including our country, Vietnam. Most Russian departments in linguistic universities disintegrated for a few years (my mother told me that the chief of the Russian department in her university had to quit teaching and went on to sell food and vegatables at the market and do other jobs); and all Russian lecturers, students and teachers had to learn English to survive those dark days, as no one was going to use Russian anymore. After a few year of quick (and too simple) training in English, in 1999, my mother became an English teacher for a secondary school and is still doing that job now, she is going to retire in 2022. Although she hasn't used Russian for almost 30 years, she is still capable of reading some simple texts and doing that rolling R impressively. We now still have dozens of Russian learning books and vinyls at home =))) I'm so proud of my mom for knowing three languages; if she had been born ten or twenty years earlier than her times, she would have fulfilled her initial intention with Russian!
What a great model you had in your mother! Have you always valued languages too? Thanks for sharing that interesting account. My neighbor is from Russia (the far east) and speaks many languages too (or used to) She came here over 20 years ago too and worked in USSR as an English teacher.
How long have you known him/her and what language(s) do they speak? Did that have an impact on why you wanted to learn languages?
And what do you speak? Does he speak both to you or do you hear him using them? I know from experience sometimes it's hard for people who have grown up speaking a language to teach someone else. They are so set in thinking in the language that they can't explain or translate well and sometimes get frustrated. I hope that's not the case with you but that is nice that you are learning German now too. I tried it but it is too hard for me to do when I am learning another language too. Maybe someday if I need to know it (or plan to), I'll pick it back up. English is my native language, of course.
I wouldn't be surprised if the midwife, doctor and nurses were bilingual too. I just kind of grew up in one of those environments where it was pretty normal.
I know a lot of people do! I think it's great (but maybe that's because I DIDN'T have that opportunity). What is your native language and what other languages did your family speak?
My native language is German and that was what we spoke in our family, but we also all spoke English since we lived abroad. My parents didn't actually speak English with us (though we did of course hear them speak it to others) since they prefered us to learn it from native speakers and because they wanted to make sure we actually learned German. With kindergarten and school being taught in English, that worked out quite well. And German was kind of our secret little language that not a lot of others could understand. :)
I actually have quite a few regrets because I had exposure to many more languages than that but sadly never made the effort to learn them. I could have learned Thai and an African language, as well as Finnish and Japanese since I had friends from those countries, but unfortunately I only learned a few words - and English. Oh well, the past can't be changed. :)
Well... My parents! Here in the Arab world, most scientific majors in university are taught in English. Both my parents are engineers, and so they grew up speaking Arabic and learned English in school. But, it was during university that they really started to speak English, out of necessity, really.
The first bilinguals are my parents actually. Ukrainian people speak Ukrainian and Russian languages since childhood. That's it.
Nearly everyone here(NL) is bi- or multilingual. But probably the first person i heard speak another language were familymembers and/or friends of my parents who didn't grew up here & spoke another language to other people, like friends/family that came over to visit them.
My relatives that live in Australia. I remember meeting them for the first time when I was about five years old and only knew a few simple English words.
That must have been a real difference from Finnish! (I was going to ask what your native language was but looked it up). Your English seems wonderful now! (Much better than my Finnish, although I have a friend there from the dog world so have an open invitation...lol)
I know for a fact my grandma was fluent in Hungarian but I never had the pleasure to hear it spoken. She passed when I was very small and the language did not pass on beyond her generation.
There's your challenge once you master Japanese. My NZ grandmother would speak Hungarian but once I got to school and was drilled on the importance of speaking English I ignored it. Now I wish I had taken the time to learn from her (she was far more patient than my father).
Actually my best friend's family. Her Dad is Kenyan and so he spoke Swahili and English, and her Mom is Indian so she was also bilingual but in a different language then my friend's dad!
I think my first boyfriend was the first bilingual person I'd met (aside from teachers) and had the experience of them speaking the other language (Welsh). I've met a few others who also speak Welsh and English fluently and I'm always envious! I even got in touch with him not too long ago to ask about the Welsh language and why things are different. Welsh varies from place to place and speakers often use informal Welsh or slang words so it's difficult.
I don't think I knew a single bilingual person until college. I don't think my high-school Spanish teacher even knew Spanish, to be honest.
I remember Freshman year in the dorms there was a Canadian who was fluent in French and English, and there were a couple of international students from Europe and Japan.
It was pretty impressive to hear people who were fluent in two languages, when prior to that everyone I knew could only speak one (as far as I knew) , and bilingual people just existed on TV.
During the Second World War I was in Primary school. In my class we had kids from Germany, we had Jews, we had italians (we were at war with them) Norwegians and Swedes.
The teachers were always looking for problems, the kids never did.
Sometimes we had to learn why some kids would come to school in tears but we just jollied them out of it.
Sometimes kids are vicious, sometimes kids are golden.
Think I might learn from them.
I've been fluent in English, Spanish, and French almost since birth so I guess I am the first multilingual person I knew. If I'm no allowed to answer myself, then my dad, who also speaks all three languages I mentioned, would be the first multilingual person I knew.
Hmm, probably my current boyfriend. Would rather not talk much about him but he is fluent in 5 languages (Javanese, Indonesian, English, French, and Italian). I met him last year, btw. No I'm not counting teachers or parrents or myself here so he is first.
my father/mother are both passable in english. enough to go on holiday and read basic texts. does that count? Else my best friend from primary school was german.
I think it was a girl who I was in a play with in middle school. Her family spoke a private language that was a mix of Italian, Spanish and French or Portuguese, I don't exactly remember. She spoke it for us, and it sounded so beautiful and mysterious.
It's weird that a lot of people here only met bilingual people at an older age. Almost everyone around me is bilingual. Every nursery I went to almost everyone in the class was bilingual at the age of 3. Maybe as time is going by more people are getting bilingual because countries are getting more diverse. I recall going into a primary school in England with about 10 English students (in the whole school) and the rest weren't, so being bilingual didn't give you any merit at all.
My boyfriend when i was 11 years old knew spanish and english! unfortunately they had forgotten much of it but could still communicate i even told them how i felt about them by the only spanish i knew! "te amo" funny how my 3rd boyfriend speaks portuguese! i still have use for "te amo" lol!
I guess it's a tie between my great-uncle and great-aunt (different family sides), a tie because I was too young to remember who I met first.
The great-uncle spoke Serbian, English, Spanish and Portuguese, the great-aunt spoke Serbian, Macedonian and Greek.
Now that I think of it, it might have been my uncle, he speaks Serbian, English and Dutch, but he's not as fluent as the other two were in "their" languages.
My mom and countless family members. My first language is French, which is spoken by the minority. I went to French school and did have English classes starting in grade 3. My parents knew that what we would learn in school would not be sufficient to be considered bilingual and improve our chances of employment. At 12, we spent an English summer away from home in a completely English environment.
I did end up marrying a man who only spoke English, our kids were fluently bilingual by the time they started school. Now they have advance skills in learning other languages such as German and Spanish.
Learning a 2nd language is hard but so worth it.
My friend from middle school is bilingual in Spanish and English, and he also was the smartest kid in the class, because he is in an 11th-grade math class in 8th grade
My friend whom i met when i was 8 and he was 10. We met in Russia, in a city on the border of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Ok, i was bilingual myself (i spoke Russian and Ukrainian, but at that time nobody around me really talked about them as 2 different languages), but my friend was British while his father was German. So the boy was speaking German, English and Arabic equally well. Half year later he added Russian to his collection.
This year he will be 38 and up till now these four languages are his best. Besides them he speaks other 7 languages fluently and 8 more "not so well" (that level for me would be a dream though). So my friend was the first multilingual person i met and he still is the most MULTIlingual of all i know)
Next real bilingual was my elder daughter with Finnish and Russian as native languages. Also with her i first experienced the mother tongue that you have spoken for four years (your whole life) can be forgotten in 2 weeks and substituted by the environment language within half year.
My parents. Both had language degrees. I'm still not properly fluent in any other language though :/
I grew up speaking English as my entire family is English but I was born and raised in Wales, and went through my entire education (until University) in Welsh. The first person I knew that was bilingual after that was probably my secondary school French teacher/best friend's mother, who spoke English, Welsh, French, Spanish and I think Italian?
Nowadays I have a lot of bilingual friends at uni and it's great to discuss what it's like growing up bilingual and wether we think differently in different languages and what our cultures are like.
I grew up around bilingual Japanese students when I lived in Japan, but the first time I overtly noted that someone was bilingual was when I met a girl who would be my first "girlfriend" in 4th grade; she and my neighbor were Spanish bilinguals and they used to speak together in Spanish on the bus.
My junior-school friends Bobby and Karen Winberg were the first people I knew to be bilingual - I thought they were native anglophone til I went to play at their house. They were Dutch, I think. We were in Dacca in Bangladesh, back in the 1970s and school was in English.