For this prompt, I thought of my immigrant ancestors and the languages they spoke when they arrived in America: English, Irish, Scottish, French, and German. There are probably others that I can’t think of right off hand without getting all technical and looking at my genealogy software or at a map.
I also thought of my maternal grandfather, William Liming Redles, and my Aunt Catherine (his daughter and my mother’s sister), who both spoke several languages. My mom told me their father could speak five languages, including Spanish and Japanese and maybe Chinese, too. Will was a U.S. Marine and was stationed in Cuba and Japan, and he had visited China on several occasions as part of his U.S. Marine duties.
|My maternal grandfather, William Liming Redles|
Aunt Catherine spoke German, Italian, Portuguese, and Brussels French, just to name a few. She’s lived all over the world working in the Foreign Service for the U.S. State Department until she retired.
My mom and Aunt Catherine were told that Will could speak Japanese fluently, and that if he was sitting behind a screen with native Japanese speakers, no one would be able to tell that one speaker was not Japanese. I remember Aunt Catherine saying that an Italian had complimented her on how well she spoke Italian, like a native-speaker.
Aunt Catherine reminds me on occasion that if you don’t use the language you’ve learned, you tend to forget it. So true. I took Latin and Spanish in high school and French in college and can’t speak any of them now. The reverse might also be true, forgetting your native tongue. I have a British friend who lived in France for several years. He told me once that he was forgetting his English (he has since moved back to England).
Learning a new language isn't easy. No wonder many of our immigrant ancestors lived in enclaves with people from their former countries who also spoke the language of the old homeland, even while trying to assimilate to their new home in America.