Getting “schooled” in foreign language by my two young sons

This morning, I volunteered to help out at a special event at my sons’ school. Today, students' grandparents were welcomed to come learn more about the school, meet the teachers and staff, and visit with their grandchildren in their classrooms.

My sons go to an international school so that means visitors would be coming to the event from around the world. As we drove to school this morning, my sons excitedly listed their friends' grandparents who would be coming from other countries - including France and Germany.

The fact that some of their friends’ grandparents had crossed oceans to come to Chicago didn’t faze them at all. What did shock them was that I would be one of the people to greet them at the event.

How will you be able to speak with them?

How will you be able to ask their names?

How will they be able to understand what you’re saying to them? 

They were in shock that their monolingual mom would be speaking to grandparents who primarily spoke French and German, among other languages.

But, bless their hearts, they didn’t leave me hanging out there. Instead, they quickly offered up a few helpful suggestions to me.

Let’s quickly practice how to say “hi,” “welcome” and “what’s your name” in French.

Be sure to find out what other parent volunteers speak French and German.

You should wait until grandpa (my father) gets there to help you speak to our friend’s grandparents in German. 

During that one car ride, it struck me once again how much better positioned they are to thrive in our increasingly global world – especially when compared with their mom.

They weren’t fazed by needing to speak another language to people. And, that will only get easier for them as they learn one, two or more languages.

But, today wasn't the first time they “schooled” me in foreign language. 

During our recent spring-break trip to Tokyo, we visited the local outpost of their school. We went there to see what the school looks like and see the area where it’s located. And, we also wanted to help show them just how small the world really is. Yes, even 6,300 miles away from Chicago, there are kids just like them who go to school to learn in French – and Japanese, too.

One of the banners that hung in the streets near the Tokyo outpost of our sons' school.

One of the banners that hung in the streets near the Tokyo outpost of our sons' school.

We loved seeing the school, hearing some of the kids and teachers speak French in Tokyo, and seeing banners with the Tokyo Tower and Eiffel Tower dot the decorative light posts on the surrounding streets. So, of course, we wanted to do more, see more and experience more.

My husband asked the woman at the front gate if there was a way our sons could come into the school and meet with children in their respective grades. As it turned out, the woman we needed to speak with was away from her office. So, the woman at the gate gave us her name, phone number and email so we could get in touch with her at another time.

Later, my husband called the woman, but he couldn’t speak with her via phone. Why? Because, while she knew some English, she preferred to speak in French or Japanese. So, what did he do? My husband quickly handed the phone to my older son who proceeded to speak to her in French – without a second thought.

I smiled and got choked up all at the same time – like any proud mom is apt to do.

As a follow up to their initial conversation, my older son and I worked on an email to send to the woman with more information about our wish to visit the school. It was a delight to write the email together, and I took pride in my son’s ability to correctly structure our sentences – something I couldn't do (even after completing junior high school level French).

Once again, my sons didn’t think twice about how to speak with a teacher or others kids in French – even in Japan. And, again, I felt at a loss that I could not do the same.Image

That’s twice that my sons “schooled” me in speaking foreign language in less than two weeks – and showed me how the ability to speak multiple languages connects you with others across the globe.

It’s been a pure joy to see my sons learn French and embrace the advantages multilingualism provides to them – in Chicago and halfway around the world.

I would gladly have my sons “school” me in foreign language any day.

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