From Europe to Canada
My great-grandparents were born in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. On my father’s side they were from Ukraine and spoke Ukrainian. On my mother’s side from Bessarabia, Poland and Romania and spoke several Eastern European languages. This is the generation that would escape from Europe and emigrate to Canada, my father’s family to a Ukrainian community in central Canada, my mother’s family to Montreal. All 4 of my grandparents were born in Canada, making me a 3rd generation Canadian. On my father’s side they speak Ukrainian and English, on my mother’s side English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish.
The Canadian Generations
My father grew up on the west coast of Canada. He speaks English but also has an interest in many languages and knows how to say key phrases in a half dozen languages. My mother grew up in the Jewish part of Montreal, speaking English and studying French and Hebrew. Both of my parents thought it best for me to learn a second language and thus enrolled me in French immersion school. This is a special Canadian system in which children enter a French school from kindergarten and study entirely in French. All of the children are from English families and every class is in French (children from French families go to a different type fo French school, called Programme Cadre). In my elementary school all classes were in French and in high school half of my classes were in English and half in French. Would you believe that the first time I studied math and science in English, was in university? Or that my first English class was in high school?
My [English] Hometown
My hometown of Nanaimo BC is on the west coast of Canada, near Vancouver. This is the English part of Canada, and though there are some French speakers, most people are Anglophone. Outside of school I spoke in English 98% of the time and other than 2 or 3 trips to Montreal, I never really had a chance to use French. Chiharu didn’t know that I could actually speak French until our honeymoon in Tahiti and that was only based requests and casual chatting with staff and tour guides. This year we hosted 3 Burinabes from French-speaking Burkina Faso in west Africa and I had the opportunity to engage in deeper conversations over a 2 week period. It was nice to stretch my French-speaking muscles and even after almost 20 years in Japan, I could still speak French. I was proud when Chiharu complimented me on my French skills!
From Canada to Japan, From Bilingual to Trilingual!
In 2007 I moved to Otsu city in Shiga prefecture, Japan. I spoke zero Japanese. Zero. I was completely dependant on Chiharu for everything. In time I found a Japanese lesson for beginners at a local international association, and then a year later started taking private lessons at a small school in Ishiyama. I took lessons twice a week for several years and then as life got busier I switched to once a week. My Japanese level is not as high as I would like, and kanji is an ongoing effort to study, but I can now take care of myself. I can maintain a conversation with friends, I could join the local volunteer fire corps and I can do most daily activies by myself. Though my Japanese is far from perfect, I consider myself trilingual.
I learned a 2nd language as a child and a 3rd language as an adult. I love to read and study and teach in all 3 languages. I hope that my passion for language can be passed to our students. Chiharu is also multi-lingual and she inspires me every day, and I hope I do the same for Smith’s Otsu students. Language is a living thing, it is a cultural thing, it is a fascinating and fun and challenging thing. Every day we try to push our students to explore new ways to study, new things to try. My language journey began over a hundred years ago, passed down the generations to me. I didn’t arrive at this point without help. I hope that we all can work and enjoy and learn together as we progress together in our individual language journeys!
Smith’s School of English Otsu