posted on Dec, 24 2006 @ 11:31 AM
My mother and father were both born and raised in Lithuania. When WWII broke out, they joined the multitude of refugees seeking to escape the ravages
of warfare. They headed West choosing to enter German occupied territories over the alternative -- a rapidly growing Soviet occupied territory.
It's not that my parents were Nazis or anything. They certainly did not love fascism. They simply chose what they considered to be the lesser of
two evils. The long bitter history of Russian domination made theirs an easy decision so they moved towards Germany. Besides, both my parents spoke
fluent German, Prussian (it wasn't considered a "dead language back then), Latvian, Polish and Russian.
Growing up in a small country surrounded by a variety of languages, it wasn't just "helpful" to know another language, it was really necessary.
Their language skills, to some extent, enabled them to survive the nightmare of the Second World War.
After the war ended, my parents, along with tens of thousands of displaced persons, emigrated to the United States. When they finally arrived in the
U.S., they had an infant in tow (my older brother)and they faced having to learn yet another language -- English. That's about the time when I came
into the picture. I was born in the United States and I was what my mother called a "real" American.
Even though I was a "real" American, my mother felt compelled to make certain that her two sons were able to speak Lithuanian. It was part of the
Lithuanian culture to make certain that their "mother tongue" survived no matter what. In Lithuania's past, Russia (and later the Soviet Union)
made a concerted effort to eradicate Lithuanian among other languages. This attack on their language was a campaign that lasted over the span of a
number of centuries! Nevertheless, Lithuanian survived and my mother was determined to keep the language alive for another generation.
As I grew up, my mother and father spoke Lithuanian in the home as we were growing up. As a matter of fact, my mother (who happened to be a
Montessori teacher) instituted a regime where on Mondays, we all spoke German. On Tuesdays, we all spoke only Polish. On Wednesdays we spoke
Russian. Thursdays was English Day. The rest of the week we spoke Lithuanian.
As I grew older, both my brother and I were enrolled in a "Lithuanian language school" which was operated by the Lithuanian immigrant community.
Classes were held every Saturday morning until around two in the afternoon.
As a young kid growing up in America, I hated this. I didn't fully appreciate back then the wonderful gift that my parents had bestowed upon us --
the gift of speaking in tongues (or so to speak ... please pardon the puns)
Here I am, years later. I speak English, of course, but I also speak, read and write Lithuanian fluently. I can also speak conversational German
(I'm a bit rusty from disuse but I can regain fluency after a bit of time and practice). I am able to swear like a sailor in Russian and I can throw
insults with the best of them in Polish (I am, however. far from fluent in either Russian or Polish -- I just know how to swear and insult people in
those two particular tongues...lol).
Although I gave up my Saturday mornings for eight years, I now fully appreciate that I have, over those years, gained a wonderful ability to
communicate with people of different languages and cultures. I believe that this gives me greater insight and understanding of other nationalities,
an insight that language helps to facilitate.
I can't say that knowing different languages has made any great difference in my life but it certainly has made traveling to Europe easier and it
made fulfilling my High School and University language requirements a breeze. On the other hand, my brother's facility with language (and his keen
ear) helped him to learn Vietnamese during his two tours of duty in "Nam" which did, indeed, make an appreciable difference in his life -- that is,
his language skill helped to save his skin on a number of occasions.
I believe language is key to understanding others; other nationalities, other cultures. It also helps to provide insight into the nuances of the way
people live and in the way they perceive others.