A BILINGUAL FIRST GENERATION IMMIGRANT

L.M.: A Bilingual First Generation Immigrant
by J.U.C.

One language is one-person and two languages are two-persons
Introduction
I have interviewed my own mom for this assignment, L.M. She was born and raised in Turkey, and as an adult became the first of her family to have legal residency in the United States.  She learned English by teaching herself before she came to the United States, where once she arrived,  the English language then became used in her daily vocabulary.

From living in the United States and speaking the language of its citizens, she has been speaking English almost constantly for the last 20 years or more, and is now a balanced bilingual, fitting the description of “A balanced bilingual can match a native speaker in each of the languages he or she speaks.” (1)

Instrument

Since my mom is currently in Turkey, caring for her sick sister, the interview was conducted over email, with some correspondence over the phone as well. Since she was busy taking care of her sister, she was not able to respond until Spring break. She was sent a list of 10 questions from each of the three categories: Becoming Bilingual, Maintaining Bilingualism, and Attitudes towards one’s bilingualism. I then received her answers and they were documented and referenced in this paper.

Becoming Bilingual

L’s introduction to bilingualism began in the early 1970s, while she was attending middle school. Before then, bilingual education was not an option for students, but once in middle school she had the choice between picking English, French, or German as a secondary language. Learning English became one of her main interests, and she realized that one class per week wasn’t enough to become fluent. She decided to make learning English and American culture one of her main goals.

Her first time visiting the United States was in September 1989, and she has now been equally fluent in both languages for near to 30 years, despite only beginning to learn it at age 30.  She brought her first son B. with her, and they are now both bilinguals, as well as a few people in her Turkish family who can speak some basic english for communicative and business purposes.

It took her about two years to become fluent in English once studying extensively. She had passed the TOEFL test for college admission, and was producing television programs in English. It was a challenging change of perspective, because Turkish differs from English in ways such as accent, tongue, sound, speed, usage of syntax and grammar (like always using verbs at the end, or the way tenses change with a single letter, or the fact that it reads the same way it is spoken, and is therefore in a way less complicated than English to learn. She has grown up with the motto “One language is one-person and two languages are two-persons”

Maintaining Bilingualism

It has not been an issue to maintain fluency in both languages for L, even though she speaks very little English in Turkey and very little Turkish in the United States. However, she feels that if she did not have several years of residency in the United States, she may not have been able to become fluent in English. She says that “sometimes, even I don’t realize in which language I speak or think…suddenly I seeing a Turkish word in English or vice-versa”. Despite this, it is not often for her to mix up the languages she speaks, but when she does she is able to correct herself immediately.

She does not consciously have to switch between the English and Turkish language when talking or speaking, because at this point it is automatic. She views both languages as equally important to her, especially since she has spent approximately half of her life in Turkey and half of her life in the United States. Since both languages are equally important to her, she has had no issues with forgetting parts of one language over another. She would have no problem teaching kids who are not bilingually fluent in one language or another.

In regards to whether she mixes up languages if she is tired or had a drink, she says “No. Only, over the years, I found out that when I am so emotional and upset with a friend who was also bilingual that, while we were speaking in Turkish, suddenly, I switched to English. In those times, indeed, I’ve felt that knowing two languages is as if being in two persons. Because, English language provides me such conditions as being more logical and in a calm mood and manner versus Turkish.”

Attitudes Towards One’s Bilingualism

She feels that there have been many benefits to being bilingual for her, and that she has fulfilled one of her deepest passions, she states that “The world is much wider to me as well as my horizon. I can read, speak, write and communicate in both languages. This was my goal and dream starting on when I was 13… In this context, if I had never accomplished anything in my life, at least, I’ve realized one of my earliest and one of the longest dream that is: learning English”.

She is interested in learning more languages, and does not see any disadvantages to being bilingual. Rarely have people judged her for being bilingual, but occasionally in Turkey it has been met with either admiration or envy. Bilingualism is such a core aspect of her life, through caring for both her American and Turkish families, that she feels “bilingualism is the essence and a daily part of in all levels of my life that I hardly think of it or feel any difference because it is & has become so natural to me as of the rising of the sun and sun set or day or night… being happy or upset; being hopeful, excited or disappointed”.

She believes that a bilingual president would be very important for Turkish politics, and a bilingual president would be beneficial for United States foreign policies, but the American public is not too interested in maintaining foreign affairs.

Conclusion

Bilingualism has always been one of my mom’s strongest interests, and once she had moved to the United States as a citizen, it has become progressively more and more important in her life. Since she has both a Turkish family and an American family, she feels that at this point bilingualism is part of her very core, and she needs bilingualism to be able to communicate with her whole family. Since bilingualism opens up so many new opportunities in life, these opportunities will reinforce the person’s bilingualism skills, as they will often rely on the acquisition of the new language.

From this, it is fair to believe that learning even more than two languages will open up even more doors to unique opportunities that are otherwise unknown, unexpected, or inaccessible.  There is a tremendous amount of advantages, and very few disadvantages, and the impact of bilingualism on a person’s language capacity is multiplicative instead of additive.

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by J.U.C.| 4/9/2018

Photo ©Lightmillennium (Metropolitan Museum, Egypt Section, NYC.)

Works Cited

  • https://psychologydictionary.org/balanced-bilingual/

– Posted on December 4,  2018.

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