BECOMING BILINGUAL

Photo©Lightmillennium

Part II of II– Interview | Part I
A. Becoming Bilingual

1. What was your motive to learn another language?

In early 1970’s in Turkey, learning another language was not a part of the public school system, in particular, in the elementary school and during the first five-year years. However, after elementary school, starting in the middle school, public school system offered one-foreign language option and once-a-week as 40 min. within the following three: English, French and German

I had chosen English. On the other hand, I realized that once-a-week and total 40 min. based on the memorizing vocabulary and reading The Smith Family story alone was not enough.

Interview conducted by J.U.C.

At the time, Turkey had only one state TV channel in Turkish. Certainly, it was 20/25 years earlier than Internet Age. Beside, there was no one in my family and circle of friends that who speaks another language. On the other hand, I always had had an interest and curiosity to learn English as far as back I can remember myself, which never had leave me from early teenager years until beginning of age 30. I had a strong will and two main goals to go abroad: 1. Learning English; 2. TV Production

Eventually, I came to the U.S. as the first time to Los Angeles in September 1989 at the age of 30 with those two main goals along with the idea visiting art museums, art galleries, seeing plays, going to concerts, musicals etc., in short, learning another culture from multi-dimension that I could expand my horizons, which were in mind and hope as well.

2. Are you equally fluent in both or stronger in one?

Yes. I feel equally fluent and confident in both in written and speaking as well as public speaking although I do have an accent in English since I’ve started to learn it at the age of 30.

3. How many Bilingual people are there in your family?

In my own nuclear family, my elder son B., his wife and my two-grandchildren R. and A. are bilingual. Since I am the elder of seven siblings, in particular, two of my younger siblings are bilingual. G. (53), who is younger than me 6 years old, speaks fluently in German and also some English, and the youngest sister S. (46), speaks in German. Also, my youngest brother N., read and understands technical English in computer business.

4. How long did it take you to become fluent in you second language?

1.5-2 years. In 1991, I’ve started taking field production, and in 1992 studio production training courses in Queens in a local station, in which, received certificates from the both, and produced about 25 original programs from 1992 to May 1993 alone.
Further, I took TOEFL test at the time, and accepted–and–registered New School University M.A. in Media Studies (NYC) in Fall 1992.

5. How do you distinguish the dialect of the native to the dialect of those who are tourist?

Accent, tongue, sound, speed, usage of syntax… For instance, a New Yorker’s sound might be different than someone from Florida, or from England or Australia although each of them first language is English and even each of them might be monolingual.

6. Is it always useful to have a language and culture of your own while living in another county that communicates differently from what you’ve been taught?

Certainly. The first native language represents who we are… where we came from, what is our cultural and personnel background, family ties-relations and education, business-work, social and cultural life that, in particular, as an immigrant to the U.S. and for all those immigrants, it is critical to keep it active and alive both in the home and host country, which also represents roots of the person, birth country and cultural background. At the same time, it is more critical and important to learn well the host country’s language, in this case, in English in the United States of America. With that, how one can quickly adopt the social matrix of his/her new host country, social and cultural life, so that could be a part of that matrix, which is fundamental. Accordingly, one can contribute to the life and culture of the new home country in a constructive form and positive outlook. Subsequently, each person could identify his/her own vision and goals along with related tools, channels and opportunities towards to that goal.

7. How different is the syntax of this language from English?

Getting use to two different syntax and usage of grammar both in written and speaking, was the hardest parts in learning as English, the second language. Because, Turkish syntax and grammar at large very different than English. In my understanding, there are five key differences:

a. The order of sentence (always uses verb at the end);
b. Tenses/TIME (Past, Present, Future, Past Particle) changes simply with a single letter at the end of each verb that is contrary to English;
c. How it is written, the way it is read/sound is the exact same. In this context, Turkish is much easier and less complicated than English;
d. A new word and/or meaning always produces by adding a single letter or syllable;
e) Turkish has 29 letters that W, Q and X are not a part of the Turkish Alphabet:

History of the Turkish Alphabet (Source: http://www.turkishlanguage.co.uk/alphabet.htm) Soon after the Turkish Republic was declared Law No:1353 dated 1st November 1928 changed the alphabet to Roman letters from the previous Ottoman Arabic script.
The Ottoman script did not adequately cover the phonetics of Turkish.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced the new Latin alphabet overnight.
It includes some special letters such as:
ğğ ĞĞ çç CC ıı II ii İİ öö ÖÖ ŞŞ şş üü ÜÜ


8. Do you feel the learning process has enhanced your cognitive functions?

Yes. I grew up with a motto in the following line: “One language is one-person and two languages are two-person.” I can only measure it based on my own intellectual works in English such as produced–and-hosted my own television programs, conducted interviews both for the website, organized events, written poems and various public presentations.

9. Do you feel learning a new language has changed your mood?

Certainly. If I had never learnt of English, in particular, not being able to speak fluently, write and produce in English, I would have felt uncompleted rest of my life. So, I feel more confident and do expect much more to do and accomplish from myself to produce intellectually both in English and Turkish. To that extend, I plan to compile about 20 years of my English works in a printed book although most of them are available online.

10. Do you feel learning a new language changed your outlook on life?

Yes. If I had never learnt and study in English, and/or never been and lived in the United States, then most likely, I had never formed my NGO-non-governmental organization and perhaps, never would’ve able to produce any of my produced television programs. Each country, culture and language offers its own rich potential and opportunities. In this line, even as of today, Public Access Television (Public, Education, Government – PEG) programs are NOT an option in Turkey. Because, United States offers this opportunity based on First Amendment Article#1 throughout the U.S. in the form of “Public Access Stations”, in which, I had benefited from this unique opportunity and produced near to 150 non-commercial and non-funded my own programs, which also produced under my NGO.

B. Maintaining Bilingualism

1. Is it hard to maintain fluency in 2 languages?

– No. This has not been an issue to me. Only main difference is, when I am in New York, I do read more frequently Turkish media and literature that I speak very little in Turkish except with my elder son and grand-children and time to time with a few Turkish friends, mostly, over the phone. When I am in Istanbul, I write a lot in English and speak a lot in Turkish and speak a little English. However, I do listen English news and continue on my intellectual works both in English and Turkish. However, if I had not sustained living in the U.S., after the very first 4 years, then I might not be able to maintain fluency in 2 languages.

2. What language do you think in?

Sometimes, even I don’t realize in which language I speak or think… this also reflects without realization in my writings… in which, I realize later on… Suddenly, I am seeing a Turkish word in English piece or vise-versa… or sometimes, a Turkish word slips in my English talk that as soon as I realize it, I try to correct it instantly.

3. Do you often mix up the languages you speak?

Not that often. Regardless, if I have to speak both languages in the same environment with a group of friends and/or family members that if some of those do not speak English that I have to speak both English and Turkish simultaneously that happens. For instance, when I am in Istanbul, sometimes I respond in English to a Turkish question without realization until I understand that the person did not understand and looking at to my face with an empty look! Then I realize it and correct myself switch my tongue to Turkish.

4. Which language do you feel is more important to maintain

I cannot distinguish it, which is equally more important to maintain the both. Since I’ve been living in the U.S. near to 30 years, and literally my half-life is in Istanbul the other is mostly in New York that my most productive life has been in the U.S. Further, my second son and two grand-daughters were born in NYC that I literally feel that my one-half is, Turkey, the other is America in all meanings such as family, professional, cultural, social and intellectual life.

5. Do you consciously translate from one language to another when speaking or writing?

No. Only, in the condition of that If I don’t know a specific word in a sentence that I look it up and translate that particular word in order to understand the related sentence in full and correctly.

6. Is it hard at first remembering your first language while learning another?

I cannot recall that. Since I studied under-graduate in Istanbul, and used to work as an art-journalist until 30 years old that my Turkish language was rooted well until I came to the U.S. Thus, this was never an issue or concern to me but in my early years in NYC, when I fully focused in TV production. Then I was wondering that If I am able to continue my writing in Turkish as well! To that end, I am catching up with my Turkish writings in recent years as well.

7. Can you teach a class with a group of kids who are not bilingually fluent in your first bilingual language?

Technically, yes. But I prefer to teach university students whether in Turkish or English. In this line, I did teach in a two-years under-graduate school for a semester in Turkish, and gave lectures, presentations in various universities and conferences internationally in English including in Turkey in Turkish.

8. Does your thinking in language change when you are tired or after drinking?

No. Only, over the years, I found out that when I am so emotional and upset with a friend that who was also bilingual that while we were speaking in Turkish, suddenly, I switched it to English. In those times, indeed, I’ve felt that knowing two languages are as if being in two persons. Because, English language provides me in such condition such as being more logical and calm mood and manner versus Turkish.

9. What is the best situation for you to use your bilingualism?

Bilingualism has fully embedded in my family, personnel, professional and intellectual life that I cannot chose or define one over another. This may only change in which country I am in in each and every situation. With that, when I am in NY, certainly, NY provides the best situation that even when I am with my 9.5 grand-daughter, we both speak in Turkish and English. Further, I do use effectively and with an equal importance of the both languages for online publications.

10. Does learning more languages help maintain the previous ones?

I don’t know yet if I learn a third language that if my Turkish and/or English fluent speaking and writing skills could be negatively effected! Although, according to a source that especially a young-brain can learn as many languages as desired but I am not aware what are the available research on learning a third or fourth languages in the later ages such as 58/59 or 60s! With that, I sincerely like to learn a third language, in which, I am hoping to start studying it within a year or two!

C. Attitudes toward one’s Bilingualism.

1. What do you think about being Bilingual? Do you reap benefits from it?
Certainly, The world is much more 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
th … 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

2. Are you interested in learning another language besides the two you already know?
Yes. As I’ve indicated in my response in the previous groups of questions and in my response to Q#10.

3. Do you feel that there are disadvantages in being bilingual?
I cannot thing of any disadvantages of it.

4. Do you feel that people treat you different because of the languages that you speak?
Rarely. In particular, when I run into with someone in Istanbul or any parts of in Turkey, who also has a desire to learn English, or a second language but that person has not obtained that opportunity yet that reflects somewhat in between being envy and/or admiration.

5. Does the fact that you’re bilingual come up often?

As I’ve stated previously, 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 rising of the sun and sun set or day or night… being happy or upset; being hopeful, excited or disappointed… In short, no.

6. What is your parents attitude towards bilingualism?

In NYC, my younger son doesn’t like my accent much. I suppose, he would’ve wish that I did not have any accent, in which, I disagree with him. Because, my bilingualism has been enhanced my life and expanded my horizon that he has been a major part of it as well.

7. Do you have many bilingual friends?
Yes. Both in NYC and world-wide.

8. Would a bilingual president be preferable by you?
In the U.S. never thought of it but in Turkey, CERTAINLY.

9. Would a bilingual president be preferable to the public
To me, yes. But some reason, unfortunately the U.S. voters do not care much about the U.S. Foreign Policy, whereas the second language will be critical that the President won’t need a translator in between with another country’s President or Prime-Minister that also is/will be more impactful both for the outcome of that particular high-level political meeting as well as perception of the general public.

10. Have you ever bumped into someone who did not like their native language and wanted to learn from you?
No. I cannot recall such an event.

– Thank you for the interesting and well-categorized questions. L.M. (Age: 58)

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For Part I: A BILINGUAL FIRST GENERATION IMMIGRANT

Photo©Lightmillennium (Metropolitan Museum, Egypt Section, NYC.)
– Posted on December 5,  2018.

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A BILINGUAL FIRST GENERATION IMMIGRANT

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