Lessons from my mom about learning languages

This post is dedicated to the person who inspired me the most to learn languages…my mom! 🥰

My mom’s legacy was teaching me that knowing another person’s language is the window into their soul.  Speaking someone else’s language helps you connect with their culture, history and traditions. It’s also a sign of respect. 🌟

I was born in South Africa, surrounded by different languages. 🇿🇦

The first language I learnt was, however, tainted by the political situation of apartheid. Afrikaans, a language derived from Dutch, was obligatory at school and I resisted having to learn a language I associated with this racist system.

It was my mother who helped me to overcome these prejudices.

First, by patiently supporting me in my struggle to do my Afrikaans homework!

And secondly, by showing me the importance of never confusing a political system with a language.

She slowly broke down my youthful, impetuous ignorance by introducing me to dissident Afrikaans poets and writers, such as Breyten Breytenbach, André Brink, Antjie Krog and J.M. Coetzee (2003 Nobel Prize for Literature).

These writers opened up a whole new world to me, illustrating the complexity and subtlety of language and politics.

But South Africa has many other languages. And the other popular language spoken where I was growing up was isiXhosa, a language which is part of the Nguni family.

I felt frustrated at not being able to understand this language spoken by so many people around me and decided to learn it when I went to university.

And when I came home from university for weekends or holidays, my mother, who was a paediatrician, got me to work as an interpreter at the local hospital!

When my sister and I settled in Spain and Chile, my mother went to Spanish classes so she could communicate with the locals when she came to visit us.

And then, when she was in her 70s, she decided to take on isiXhosa. Although she admitted that it was so much more difficult to learn at that age!

At least she had her beloved friend, Ayaka to practise with. Although I suspect they chatted more in English than in isiXhosa!

My favourite memory of her is her singing Happy Birthday to her children and grandchildren in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and Spanish!

What a legend! Thanks, Mom!

And thanks to the mothers all over the world for being an inspiration to their children! 🙏🏼✨

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