Residual Acquisition from ‘Motherly’ Love

ImageGrandmothers & Mother Tongues

I felt so accomplished last week.

Prior to the birth of my son in October, I was studying Korean (my mother’s native language), and Turkish (my husband’s native language). I made some progress in both areas, but I was admittedly taking on a bit more than I could chew by studying both at the same time while also working, teaching English, and growing a human in my belly.

After my son came, I didn’t have time for classes or to study on my own. However, my mother came to stay with me for just about two months. She, who always speaks English to me, was singing and speaking to my son in Korean. We also spent HOURS watching K-dramas at the end of my pregnancy, and in the wee-morning hours after he arrived. Suddenly, I was moderately immersed in Korean.

When she left, my mother-in-law came from Turkey. She knows very little English, and so naturally speaks Turkish to everyone—including me. I am TOTALLY immersed in Turkish the minute I walk in the door.

If I try to speak either of these languages, it’s still utterances of words in the wrong order and without proper grammar. However, I find myself in another stage of language acquisition, a more advanced stage in my ability to understand the language being spoke to me.

This was demonstrated by a recent grocery shopping trip before Christmas.

Because my American family members are all in Illinois and I in North Carolina, I thought that I could still celebrate with my Turkish housemates, albeit with a Korean meal instead of roasting a bird. This required a trip to the Korean grocery store.

I decided to take my mother-in-law with me (let’s call her MIL from now on), and this meant we would also need to stop by the local Arab market (there are no Turkish grocery options nearby, and Arabic stores tend to carry Turkish products). While there, my MIL suddenly felt more comfortable than I had ever seen her on our previous outings. No one there was Turkish, but since we were getting meat from a Halal butcher,  it may have been because we were in an environment with fellow Muslims. I can’t say that for sure, but something inspired her to start talking to the butcher, a lot.  Unfortunately, he only spoke English and Arabic. This meant that I had to translate. That’s right. ME. Translating TURKISH. And you know what? I was able to! It was really neat, having each of them look at me – my MIL and the butcher – with the face that says “OK, now tell him/her what I just said.” I know this face well, because I make it all the time.

That was accomplishment number one.

Later, we ventured to the Korean store. The owner is super-friendly and knew me through my mother, who frequents the store whenever she is in N.C. As I was checking out, we had a short discourse – her in Korean and me in English. A simple conversation, “Where is your mother? – When is she coming?” but a fruitful one. We both understood each other (I know because her English-speaking son was standing next to her and did not feel compelled to interject) yet were both more comfortable speaking in our own languages.

This seemingly simple trip to the store turned out to be an international grocery event rich with self-gratification.

So it seems that while caring for my son has consumed the time that I would use to “study” language, I am getting the residual acquisition affects from all of this “motherly” love—from grandmothers, and their mother tongues. Just one more reason he makes my life better.

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