My Mother Tongue and Me: Staying Unapologetically Foreign in the Land I Proudly Call Home

21 February 2017

In celebration of International Mother Language Day, we’re delighted to share this post written by Tommi’s mum, Marjukka, about what her mother language, Finnish, means to her.

The best description I have heard of mother-tongue was made by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, when she described it as being like skin. The second language, by contrast, is like a pair of jeans, which fits well and feels comfortable but will never replace the skin.

Marjukka rowing on Enäjärvi

Marjukka rowing on Enäjärvi

My mother-tongue, Finnish, is the language of my identity, and the language of my deep feelings. Through it I can describe my joys and sorrows, anger and delight much better than I could in any other language. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, nothing releases the pain better than “voi perkele” (devil) and when I get Sudoku numbers wrong, the frustration is vented with “voi paska” (oh shit). Just recently I remembered a word “hämäränhyssy” – the twilight time when my parents would sit silently in semi darkness just relaxing and waiting for the evening to come. Even now, at the age of 67, the word brings to my mind a beautiful sense of peace and harmony.

Marjukka with Tommi and Sami

Marjukka with Tommi and Sami

So how could I have ever spoken soft, caressing, loving words of baby talk to my two sons in English, since I hadn’t heard them from my mother and father? My language to my children had to be Finnish! And it still is. The best thing, however, is that it can now be Finnish, English or Finglish – since some things are easier described in the language they occur.

I have a strong Finnish identity, despite having happily lived in beautiful Great Britain for over 45 years. My accent reveals me to be a Finn even if I say just “yes”. Could it be that I want to be noticed as a Finn? My parents raised me with a love of the language: the happy memories of my father reading Moomin adventures, or my mother chatting and laughing with her numerous sisters. As a teenager, the romantic words of the Finnish melancholy tango songs moved me to tears. And there are so many words which just can’t be translated into English. Just like there are words in English which are hard to translate into Finnish.

So my mother tongue is my identity, my soul, and my tool. English is my very useful second tool, and I am very grateful I have learned to use that tool well, but it will never be my soul or my identity.

Marjukka Grover


Family Language Learning

22 January 2015

This month we published Family Language Learning by Christine Jernigan which is a practical guide on how to teach your children another language when you are not a native speaker of the foreign language yourself.

Family Language LearningWhen I told people I was going to speak Portuguese (a language I was still trying to learn) to my newborn, they thought I was nuts. But it had to be possible—I could just read up on the subject and follow the instructions, right? What a shock to find there was little advice for parents who don’t speak the language as a native language.

So I started interviewing bilingual people myself—parents, teachers, grandparents, foster parents—and it was fascinating to hear how they handled naysayers who thought it unwise or impossible for non-native speakers to raise a child bilingually.

Family Language Learning: Learn Another Language, Raise Bilingual Children opens the door for you to speak another language with your child even if you’re not a native or fluent speaker. Written in a conversational tone with humor throughout, you’ll find out how to:
• Learn the language better yourself
• Choose a method that fits your lifestyle
• Increase motivation—yours and your child’s
• Talk and play to learn
• Read and write a little or a lot
• Travel—going beyond just seeing the sights
• Meet challenges with creative solutions

Join me for an exciting ride of becoming a bilingual family!

If you would like further information about the book please see our website or take a look at Christine’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/getbilingual.


Online Study of Bilingualism

13 March 2012

Multilingual Matters author Dr. Sue Dicker, professor of English at Hostos Community College, City University of New York, is the author of Languages in America: A Pluralist View. A well-respected book, Languages in America is a commonly-used textbook in many college education courses.

Sue Dicker

Dr. Dicker is presently engaged in an online study of bilingualism in New York City. Her goal is to record the experiences of bilingual English-Spanish and English-Chinese speakers using their native or heritage languages in the public sphere. In addition to being comfortably bilingual in English-Spanish or English-Chinese, subjects must be at least nineteen years old and live in New York City. The survey consists of short-answer questions that take roughly ten minutes to answer and open-ended questions that participants may answer in as much detail as they wish or not at all.

If you are eligible for the survey please click here to participate in the study. Please feel free to forward the link to others who might find it interesting.

If you would like further information on this study, Dr. Dicker may be reached at sdicker@hostos.cuny.edu.


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