The Journey Begins
If you are checking out our site for the first time, odds are you have some desire to learn another language or learn about another culture. I (David) remember the first time I started learning another language. I was about ten years old, and it was a hot, boring summer day on the farm in Iowa. I decided to go up to the storage room on the second floor of my family’s 120-year-old farmhouse and see if there was anything there worth playing with. I brushed away cobwebs and began looking through boxes. The first one I looked in was full of old pictures… one of me pushing my bubble walker behind my dad as he mowed the lawn… one of the huge red barns that used to stand on our property before a fire burned them down… one of my baby sister covered in spaghetti… and then one of my grandparents sitting in their living room in Europe with my 1-year-old father playing next to them.
Soon I found a box with a set of cutlery that had been passed down to my parents. The smooth handles of the knives were made of bone that had been carved and polished over a century before back in the Old Country. There was a hat my great-grandpa had purchased shortly after he arrived in America. As I rifled through the dust-covered history of my family, I noticed something else. At first, it just seemed like any other old book, but as I looked closer, I realized I couldn’t read the words in it. I took it downstairs and asked my mom about it, and found out it had belonged to her grandpa Louis. He had brought it over with him when he immigrated from Romania a few generations back. The reason I couldn’t read it was because it wasn’t in English.
“I felt like the book I was holding was a key to unlocking the secrets of who I really was and where I came from.”
Even though I knew both sides of my family had immigrated to the US in the last few generations, my parents were proud to be American, and I pretty much only heard English my entire childhood, except a few random words that had crept into our family lingo (like popa, which means backside in some of the Slavic languages my dad’s family spoke, and I heard on occasions when I was in trouble!) I was struck by the realization that there was so much about my family’s history I knew nothing about, and at 10 years old, I felt like the book I was holding was a key to unlocking the secrets of who I really was and where I came from.
Later that week, I had the chance to go to the public library, and started scouring the shelves for books about Romania and the Romanian language. I was heartbroken to find out that there was absolutely nothing. Granted, the town was only a few thousand people in the middle of a cornfield, so there were a lot of subjects our library didn’t have books on.
I went up to the front desk and asked them if they could request some for me, and they told me to check back in a few weeks (This was in the days before the internet had taken over, so things were a little slower then).
The weeks passed slowly until one day I got a notice that my books were in. Dust rose in a cloud behind my bike as I peddled the 4 miles into town. Sweat soaked my baggy tie-dyed t-shirt as I walked into the library to claim my treasure. They handed me a white plastic case with dark red letters: Romanian. I checked it out, put it in a bag, swung by the gas station for a soda, and peddled back home.
By the time I got home, my enthusiasm was a little dampened by perspiration, so I took a break for ice water and snack cakes, and then went up to my room to master the Romanian language.
Inside, I found several cassette tapes and a 50 page phrase book. I opened my great-grandpa’s book, put a tape in my stereo, and set to work.
Now, a few decades later, I wish I could say I was fluent in Romanian. Actually, the only phrase I remember from those tapes was “Nu fumez,” which means “I don’t smoke.” But that summer for me was much like the visit of the dwarves to Bilbo Baggens’ little hobbit hole. The outside world came crashing in and interrupted my happy little agrarian life and awakened a spirit of curiosity and adventure. In the years that followed, I dove into high-school Spanish class and did an independent study of American Sign Language. I spent free time learning about Czech, Serbian, Turkish, Georgian, Azerbaijani, French, Greek, though I can’t say I made much progress on these languages. I became a linguist and a certified TEFL teacher and have taught English both in the US and abroad. While abroad, I studied Russian to the point of fluency and have even worked at times as a translator, and gained a strong understanding of Ukrainian, though not to the level of my Russian. In preparation for my thesis, I have also been studying the language and culture of minority groups like the Romani in Eastern Europe.
“We’ve realized that it isn’t so much about forcing our kids to become fluent in any given language, so much as helping them treasure the richness that languages add to life”
This journey of languages eventually brought me to an even greater love. Through mutual friends, I was introduced to a wonderful woman named Natalie, who was working as a Spanish-English translator. I convinced her to give me her phone number by asking for Spanish tutoring, which I regret she still hasn’t given me, but she did agree to marry me almost a decade ago, and has given me four beautiful children. Together we are doing our best to help our children journey with us, and are learning a lot about what does and doesn’t work for raising a family of polyglots. We’ve realized that it isn’t so much about forcing our kids to become fluent in any given language, so much as helping them treasure the richness that languages add to life, and giving them the skills and the perspective they need to dig as deep as they desire into any given language.
Our hope for Family Language Solutions is that it will become a resource for those who are striving to add this richness to their families as well. Maybe you are like me and are motivated to reestablish connections with your roots. Or maybe you are simply trying to broaden your family’s horizons. Maybe you want to supplement your children’s school’s language classes, or maybe you are homeschooling them and want to add a foreign language. Maybe you travel for work and want to help your children adapt to their host country. Maybe you have adopted children from abroad and are trying to help them adapt to life in your home culture. Whatever your motivation is for learning language or culture, we hope this site will provide you with tools and encouragement to not only reach your desired destination, but to enjoy the journey along the way.