Do not forget who we are / Ne pas oublier qui l’on est

Couple of weeks ago I went on a quick trip back to France, and as usual on such occasion, I take the opportunity to grab a couple of international newspapers. That day, I managed to get my hands on the International Herald Tribune. In there I read a column that I found very interesting. The column was about a woman, living in Hong-Kong, witnessing parents who would rather speak to their children in broken English hoping it’ll help them enter high-end English-speaking schools, and give them a nice big international career.

Il y a quelques semaines je suis rentré pour un retour rapide en France, et comme d’habitude dans ces cas-là, j’en profite pour attraper quelques journaux internationaux. Ce jour-là, j’ai réussi à mettre la main sur l’International Herald Tribune. J’y ai pu lire une colonne que j’ai trouvée très intéressante. La colonne parlait d’une femme, habitant à Hong-Kong, voyant des parents qui préfèrent parler à leurs enfants uniquement en mauvais anglais en espérant que ça leur permettra d’entrer dans des écoles anglophones de luxe, et leur donnera une belle grosse carrière internationale.

Although I understand why some parents would do that, I definitely think this is a bad idea. As an adult, I always regretted having a Vietnamese father who didn’t force the Vietnamese language on me and my siblings. He was proud of knowing French, proud to be a foreigner mastering the language of the country he chose to live in, and I respect that choice. But looking back, I regret not speaking Vietnamese, since it is half of my culture, after all. And if he chose to speak Vietnamese to us, it wouldn’t have stopped us from learning and mastering French either.

Bien que je comprenne pourquoi certains parents voudraient faire ça, je pense vraiment que c’est une mauvaise idée. En tant qu’adute, j’ai toujours regretté d’avoir un père Viet-Namien qui ne nous a pas forcé à apprendre le vietnamien, à moi ni à mes frères et sœurs. Il était fier de parler français, fier d’être un étranger qui maîtrise la langue du pays dans lequel il a choisi de s’installer, et je respecte ce choix. Mais quand j’y repense, je regrette de ne pas savoir parler vietnamien, vu que c’est la moitié de ma culture, après tout. Et s’il avait choisi de nous parler vietnamien, ça ne nous aurait pas empêché d’apprendre et de maîtriser le français.

English is not the only language in the world. It may be a mandatory asset at an international level today, but who knows if it’ll still be the case by the time today’s children grow up? French parents nowadays try to rush their kids to mandarin classes as much as possible, anticipating for China to become an even bigger player on the international market than the US.

L’anglais n’est pas la seule langue au monde. C’est peut-être obligatoire au niveau international aujourd’hui, mais qui sait si cela sera toujours le cas d’ici à ce que les enfants d’aujourd’hui deviennent adultes? Les parents français, de nos jours, essaient de fourrer leurs enfants dans des classes de mandarin, anticipant un passage de la Chine devant les États Unis sur la scène internationale.

My word to parents out there in a non-English speaking family? No matter where you are, keep speaking and teaching to your children your native language. For foreign languages, rely on school and try to motivate them into learning new languages. If they are motivated, any new language will be relatively easy to learn. English is easier to learn than many languages anyways. School exchanges, pen pals, there are plenty of ways to get interested in learning another language, and that’s all a kid needs for motivation.

Mon conseil aux parents d’une famille non-anglophone? Où que vous soyez, continuez de parler et d’apprendre à vos enfants votre langue maternelle. Pour les langues étrangères, faites confiance à l’école et essayez de les motiver à apprendre de nouvelles langues. S’ils sont motivés, n’importe quelle nouvelle langue sera relativement aisée à apprendre. L’anglais est plus facile que de nombreux languages de toute façon. Échanges scolaires, correspondants, il y a plein de manières de rendre l’apprentissage intéressant, et c’est tout ce dont les enfants ont besoin en terme de motivation.


3 thoughts on “Do not forget who we are / Ne pas oublier qui l’on est

  1. There is also the tricky issue of neural plasticity. If a child is only exposed to poorly structured language they will actually lose the ability to learn any grammatical structure. I do know a woman like this, she was from India, her parents ONLY spoke to her in what was clearly very broken English, and her school was clearly little better. She is very difficult to understand, with pronunciation, grammatical structures and vocabulary and it is the only language she knows. I know other adults who moved countries long ago, never learned the local language well, and who have been there so long that their maternal language has deteriorated to the point that they do not speak any language well. Much much better to speak the native language well, clearly and richly and let the child learn the other at school, which they will do easily at that age….I go on, but it is a hot button topic for me.


    • I knew you would be quite knowledgeable on the subject, considering both your personal and professional situations ;). I also think learning the local language is a must, even if only to show respect to the country you reside in. As a kid, I didn’t have any problems learning or wanting to learn new languages. We always had school exchanges going on with either me or one of my siblings, and it was more than enough to make me want to learn. And when abroad, I always try to keep reading/speaking French, to not lose it.


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