When I was a child, my biggest (very ambitious!) dream was to be able to travel the world.
However, besides the financial background my parents had, there was another problem: we did not speak any languages besides Hungarian, and we did not even had a chance.
Given that I was a child in the communist era, we had to learn Russian from the age of ten. I had Russian classes twice a week, thirty-some kids with one teacher… So before you ask, no, this was far not enough to learn any language. After five years, the only things I remember are “Я не говорю по-русски.” (I don’t speak Russian – which is true) and “Я играю на гитаре.” (I play guitar – which is not true at all).
If I were one year younger, I would have had English or German classes instead. Every Russian teacher became an English or German teacher overnight after the Russians left the country… Teaching a language that you started to learn only a few months earlier was a thing in Hungary those days… But that’s another story. You can imagine…
So we were the last class who had to study Russian…
During the application process to the high school, we were asked what our preferred language was. Everyone (literally: everyone!) in my class said English. – Which did not really matter too much. As we learned later, what language classes you had depended on what language teachers the school had at that time. So we got German and French…
In the end, I was able to pass an A2 exam in German, and I still can order Cappuccino when in Germany (well, “Ein Cappuccino, bitte!” is not that complex, right? 😉 ). But I have never been able to speak French beyond “Je ne comprends pas.”
So by the time I started my studies at the university, I had learned three foreign languages – and could not really speak any of these. This was VERY frustrating!
Long story short, I was over 20 when I started to learn English, finally.
I passed the B2 language exam when I was 25.
I did my first session at a conference in English when I was 28 (in Washington DC!).
(I have to confess that having everyday conversations in English was still one of my biggest fears those days because I felt my English was not good enough.)
And I’ve been using English as the primary work language since the age of 30.
Is my English perfect? – Not at all! But by now, I use it with ease, and it has become part of my identity. By now, I speak (and think) more English than Hungarian.
My husband has a bit of different background, so besides Hungarian, he speaks not only English but also fluent German.
When we decided to have a family together, we agreed that we find it important that our future children would speak languages. We didn’t want to limit their opportunities by speaking Hungarian only.
So when our eldest son went to kindergarten at the age of 2.5, it was an easy decision to send him to an English-Hungarian bilingual kindergarten.
Four years later, he went to a school where he learned German – and continued English with private teachers in afternoon classes.
We did the same with our daughter, who is three years younger.
Our youngest son, who is seven now, spent four years in the same bilingual kindergarten.
What does it mean in practice? – By the age of seven, all three of them spoke considerably good English.
I also like to take them on one or two trips to a foreign country every year (except those covid-years, of course) – the best way of education and motivation ever! This way, they can meet new people and new cultures, try new food, and have invaluable new experiences. And this way, they learn and practice not the language(s) only, but also be curious and open-minded, which is at least as important.
Our eldest son is sixteen now, and our daughter is thirteen – they speak fluent English and good-enough-to-have-everyday-conversations German (son passed a B2 exam, daughter is preparing for it now).
But it’s not the end of the story…
Our now-sixteen son also started to study Spanish in school two and a half years ago (his decision!).
Our thirteen years old daughter started French in school this September (again, her decision). And just for fun, she decided to learn Chinese, too… Apparently, learning languages is her thing, and she does it with ease and joy!
And with the move to the Netherlands, both of them are in an English high school (every class is in English), and they also have Dutch classes a couple of times every week.
The youngest one is in a Dutch school – not only having all classes in Dutch but also having a small-group Dutch class every. single. day. (four kids) – You can guess, after a few months, he’s the one who speaks the most advanced Dutch in the whole family!
Are you still with me? 😀
Honestly, I often feel I live in a Babel Tower! Following who speaks what languages in our family is not easy at all, but so good to see how much they enjoy it!
I’m not sure what they’ll do when they grow up, and honestly, I don’t even mind as long as they find their passion. It’s amazing to see them growing, trying and experiencing different things, and slowly finding out what they like and what they don’t. And knowing that there would be no language barrier for them at all warms my heart so much!