The English Battle

If you met my kids, you would do a double-take.

My children are Israelis through and through. They are proud sabras who only speak English under extreme duress. They relate to English in the same way my grandparents related to their parents’ Yiddish- so uncool, so Old Country, so embarrassing…

But I am undeterred. I try to speak only English with my children. It is important to me that I am able to communicate with the people closest to me in the language in which I feel most comfortable. It is important to me that my children will be able to have a strong relationship with their English-speaking grandparents and relatives. It is important to me that my kids will have at least some connection to the culture that I grew up in and that still shapes who I am in many ways.

But speaking English with my kids is a battle. They wish I would finally just speak with them in Hebrew, like their father. They can’t understand why I would continue to speak English when I could speak The Holy Language, the language with which G-d Himself created the world.

And they have a point. But I think I do too.

So, in the Weisberg home, I speak English, and my children, all the way from my eleven year old down to my two year old answer me only in Hebrew.

Which makes me feel that my battle is quite futile, quite often.

Therefore, one of the most profoundly satisfying experiences in my life is on those very rare occasions when I see that my ongoing battle of English has managed to capture even a few meters of territory. During grandparent visits, for example, when I finally hear one of my children say something like: “Savta, you vant to go to playground?” “Saba, you vant to hear song I learn?” “Savta, you could make me zee the appo juice?”

Their broken yet understandable English is my proof in life that little by little, day by day I am slowly, imperceptibly, irrevocably shaping and educating my children- like morning glories turning slower than the human eye can see in order to face the Sun.

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5 comments

  1. Rachel Shifra

    I agree with speaking the language of the heart to your nearest and dearest. Good luck Chana!

  2. We’re doing the same thing here, but I’m still waiting for the battle to start 🙂
    Keep it up, they’ll thank you for it one day

  3. shulamit

    BH

    my kids are grown-up and happy today that I kept up speaking English even when they answered in Hebrew – they were able to communicate with their American cousins who came to visit and did well in English in school – they are grateful about this!

  4. I understand you!
    I know some children like that…and they grew up to marry *real ENGLISH speakers* …and they can communicate!

    I find that English is also a way to get the children to speak more nicely. If you speak nicely at home, they don’t know gruff words, low slang, or curse words in English: but they do in hebrew! Once my 3 year old said “al tishakry!” to me and and I didn’t appreciate the tone of voice to a mother! I told him to say it in English and he really tried: “mommy, don’t be mishaker”! But when it was in English, it was in a more dignified tone!

    In Yiddish, they say that it is always a benefit to speak something that isn’t the language of the street, the “gaas”.

  5. I’m currently living in the States (though in the process of making aliyah) and I speak Hungarian to my kids! Even I found it hard to keep it up, since there’s noone here to speak Hungarian to on a regular basis. My mom only speaks Hungarian and whenever she comes the kids can hear more. My oldest, who mostly speaks English to me, speaks fluent Hungarian with her Grandma, so it’s definitely worth keeping it up! My mom will be moving in with us soon – that should help my “battle”!

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