This weekend we bought a new interactive learning toy for our little Noah. It’s his first toy with two language settings in Dutch and French. Dutch and French, along with German, are the official languages of Belgium and as such are taught in schools here. Myself, having grown up in the U.S. where there is no actual “official” language, I never thought I’d be raising a child in a country with three.
Plus, English is also taught in every academic year here. The Belgian education system places high value on world languages. Then there’s the Korean language, which Noah will inherit from me and my mother. But Noah’s life languages, what he speaks at home, will be Dutch and English. And as much Korean as we can.
I grew up in a household where Korean and English were my life languages. Korean first then English, and my father loved to practice English with me even when I was only five. My mother’s English was horrific compared to my father’s and to this day her English remains bad enough to be funny often. It’s actually very cute to listen to if you’re not in a hurry. It’s even funnier when my mother’s angry.
I remember being on a bus with my mother when I was ten or so, on the way home from the dentist in midtown, and a man sitting across from us opened his jacket to reveal his erect penis. I’d thought it looked like an angry pink sausage in his lap and I’d held my breath not knowing if anyone else could see it too. My mother surely did because she all of a sudden yanked me out of my seat by my coat’s shoulder pad, and pointed her finger at Angry Penis Man.
“You so dirty animal! You sooooo dirty animal!”
She repeated that about a dozen times while dragging me down the aisle towards the bus driver as her eyeballs hurled fire. I was still in shock and mortified by my mother’s misuse of “so” so many times. But in that moment it didn’t matter how good or bad her English was. Everyone on the bus understood exactly what had happened and they held him down until transit police arrived.
I’m hoping to never to have to one day, with Noah, yell something to the effect of “you so dirty animal” on a public bus because of some pervert flasher. But I know that I can do it in Dutch and in French and also in Korean if I have to. I might as well learn in in German too. Grammatically incorrectly with a “so” in it and everything.