Saturday, April 12, 2008

English is Yours!

It's a mystery to most of us when exactly we master a second language. I speak Spanish after having studied it for years and lived in Mexico, but I have no idea exactly when I got a handle on it. I remember I could talk before I understood. My daughter, on the other hand, always understood it perfectly but didn't speak it for years.

Yesterday I spoke with the parent of a special-needs child who speaks English as a second language. She told me she was afraid to speak for many years and used to hide behind her husband. When she went to school she had him check her papers. After the second year he told her she didn't need his help. By the third year he told her she wrote better than he did, and she agreed.

But she still wouldn't talk. Not in public anyway.

She studied and studied everything she could find that affected her child. And once, when she went to a school conference, she began reading a report about her son that she disagreed with completely. She asked her husband to say something, but he didn't understand the report at all. There was no choice but to learn English right there and then.

So she drew herself up, opened her mouth, and objected. She objected specifically to many things in the report, and gave her opinions precisely, clearly, and in some detail. Something she said made the speech therapist cry. By the time she was finished, everyone in the room was quiet.

On the way home, she told her husband, "I can speak English. I could say whatever I want. And everyone understood me. Not only that, but they were afraid of me."

She was delighted. And the next week, when her child had a new and better speech therapist, she was even more delighted. Apparently, once she opened her mouth in English there was no closing it again, and she's been a big fan of English ever since.

As am I.
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