Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I don't mean to offend you but...

Why is that when someone, usually someone who doesn't know you that well (or really at all for that matter), prefaces a statement with "I don't mean to offend you but..." they usually succeed in doing the very thing that they told you they're not going to do? Serenity now!

So here’s the setup: at a kid’s birthday party, I strike up a conversation with one of the other parents about pre-school…

OtherParent: “How many days a week does your daughter go to the other pre-school?”

Me: “Well, she goes to [the Japanese language] pre-school two days a week and she goes to [the bilingual Montessori] pre-school two days a week.”

Without missing a beat, OtherParent says: “I don’t mean to offend you but…”

What OtherParent proceeded to tell me (in about the most directive way possible) was that the decision to have our daughter attend two different schools was, well, wrong. Talk about a conversation stopper. I decided to take the bait anyway and rolled with the resistance. “What do you mean by that?” I asked (suppressing the urge to raise my voice).

OtherParent’s point was two-fold: (1) that it’s too confusing to have my child learn two different languages at the same time (too bad, she’s learning three since I also speak Spanish); (2) that OtherParent would feel badly about my daughter losing the ability to speak with my wife’s parents (wait, what about my Korean-speaking parents!?).

Much like my initial response to Alexandra Wallace’s “so we know I'm not the most politically correct person, so don't take this offensively” YouTube video, I was pissed off. But you know? That anger has given way to firm resolve (I mean, don’t look back in anger, right?)

First, OtherParent was wrong. Bilingualism is, in fact, good for the brain. Research shows that speaking more than one language helps with multi-tasking, prioritizing information in potentially confusing situations, and helps ward off early symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the elderly. Not to mention, that bilingualism helps me communicate with my daughter because her Japanese got chotto better than mine after she turned two (sugoi ne).

Second, in any language, my in-laws and my own parents are good people. Yes, I was forced to go to Korean school (even though I would have preferred to fill my pie hole with sugary breakfast cereals while killing brain cells watching cartoons) on Saturday mornings, but I was also instructed repeatedly as a child to be an “All-American” boy (and given the freedom to figure out what that means on my own). Time has either made my parents soft or time has made my parents realize that there isn’t a whole lot of time (left). So for what does that leave time? Simply put, time for agape.

So where do we go from here? Well, my daughter is going to stay at her two different pre-schools because frankly, she digs it and she learns different skills at both schools. And besides, as my hero, Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, said:

"We like to think we’re so smart, that we have all the answers. And we want to pass that on to our children. But if you scratch beneath the surface, you won’t have to dig deep to find the kid you were, which is why it’s kind of crazy that we’re raising kids of our own. I guess that’s the real circle of life. Your parents faked their way through it. You fake your way through it. And you just hope you didn’t raise a serial killer."

Amen and thanks for the opportunity to post my (virgin) musings with you, my Rice Daddies brethren.


G said...

Well-written post.

Is it terrible for me to already assume what OtherParent's ethnicity is? Hrmmm.

It's pretty sad that the US continues to be only country and culture that discourages multi-lingualism when just about every other country in the world and research shows that it's advantageous to be able to speak more than one language...

thisislarry said...

I would add music & programming as analogous other languages. They're good at expanding the breadth of how we think.

That said, I'm not sending my kids to a second language school so its great to hear on RD and elsewhere about what a critical choice it is to make.

And thumbs up for working in a Modern Family reference. Sad to say but I wholeheartedly agree with it!

Anonymous said...

Mainstream bilingualism (teaching more than one language from day one to a child) and introducing a second language several years later are both valid ways of developing bilingual capabilities. Each has certain disadvantages too. Each parent should speak to their child in a single language, preferably that parent's native language. People who are not bilingual or have not raised bilingual children have a variety of outdated or ignorant assumptions and beliefs.

Jeremy Pierce said...

It looks like a more generalized version of "I'm not a racist, but..."

Melanie said...

It's like a non-apology apology. "I'm sorry you were offended." but not actually sorry that what I said was inappropriate and offensive. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 1 million percent! We speak to our son in Korean and Chinese at home, and have him figure out English when he gets to be school aged :). But since his mom and I speak english to each other, I have a feeling English won't be a problem for him anyway :).

That's pretty interesting that they have weekday foreign-language schools that the states will allow for those students. I'm sure the curriculum would be the same though, with probably a few extra language classes thrown in.

Anonymous said...

I wish my parents enforced heritage language skills more strongly when I was younger. It's a skill set I probably won't reclaim without a great deal of effort and professionally, other languages are more useful to me now. So if I had to choose, I'd put my aging-brain cells to work on the languages I would continue to use now, not ones that would make me feel closer to the past.

Multilingualism is proven to be positive for cognitive development AND self-esteem, two things all kids need more of. OtherParent, like many single-language speakers, might observe multilingual children as being "quiet" at younger ages, but their brains are processing many stimuli. A little bit longer of a silent period at the start is worth the variety of languages skills later.

Bueno suerte!

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