Reflections

November 6, 2020

Cross-culture challenges are worth it

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

hey there

They say learning a language has many benefits.

Languages – I was exempt from learning French in school and have always hated the language as it got shoved down my throat. When I hear French, I just can’t stand it at all. Even though it’s something I should technically have learned I just can’t seem to make the cultural connection.

Portuguese – I’m technically half Portuguese and my grandparents spoke to me in both English and Portuguese when I was a kid. I always had to watch those Portuguese soap operas with my grandparents at 3pm. Until of course they got a TV upstairs and then I got to watch either Pokemon or Arthur. I started to learn some small words, when I spoke it to my mom she was impressed and said that I would pick up Spanish quickly.

I should have really tried to learn Portuguese, but I just couldn’t connect with it as much as I wanted to. Same goes with the people, don’t get me wrong it’s a beautiful language but it just didn’t interest me.

I remember as a kid that I had always been exposed to different languages and loved it. There were people out there who would make fun of those who wouldn’t speak English. To me that is sad because we can all learn from one another. I was around Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and a whole mix of different cultures. That’s the beauty of growing up in a multi cultural diverse neighbourhood and living in the city.

When I moved to Fonthill in 1999 it was a culture shock. Lots of English and lots of white people. Moving to Courtice in 2000 was a bigger culture shock because everyone was plain old Canadian who only seemed to speak English, and French was still shoved down my throat.

I still hated learning French and would often fail it in school. Even though everyone said it was beneficial to learn it and you will go places with it.

One day, when I was a teenager I had a conversation with my aunt about languages. She told me the benefits of learning a language and she told me about how there are people who discriminate against people who speak in their mother tongue. I felt sad about that because I love hearing other people speak their mother tongue. My aunt suggested that the next time I go to my convenience store, I should ask them “Excuse me, do you mind me asking what language you are speaking? I’m interested in learning it.” and see what they say.

A few days later, I went to the convenience store and heard the brothers at the store speaking their mother tongue. I took my aunt’s advice and did just that. One of them said he didn’t mind and that they were speaking Arabic. He said it is hard but he also told me where they have Arabic lessons which was good for me to know.

Flash forward to my adult years, I thought it was just a phase until I met a young child at my daycare.

A young child who we will call “A” was just a baby that would visit the daycare first before starting. He was so cute, with his chubby cheeks, blonde hair and blue eyes. When he first came in he would cry.

My coworkers and I would try and comfort him. One of my coworkers mentioned that English wasn’t his first language spoken at home. His parents made it clear that he was to be called by his informal name “S” for cultural reasons. When I asked my coworker out of curiosity about what language was spoken at home, she said Russian. Something suddenly clicked, my brother lived with Russians when he went to University and there was just something about it that intrigued me.

When the child’s Grandma would pick him up, I would be waiting for the children to get off the bus. We would say hello to each other and I finally asked her how to say Hello in Russian. Привет “privYET” the informal version & the formal version здравствуйте “Zdravstvuyte” which took a bit to finally nail. I quickly picked up on it.

Russian had me at hello.

I was taught how to have a basic Russian conversation and it clicked. I quickly picked up on it and every time I saw her I would practice. There was always a smile on her face. This was the language I wanted to learn and study. I was told it is hard and it will take many years to be fluent but is worth it.

I bought books on how to speak Russian and to read it. Though, lesson learned — no matter how many books you buy and how many apps you download you NEED to hear the language spoken in both the slow and regular speed.

The more I got into it, the more I love it and it has become a special interest of mine. I can’t wait to someday be fluent but it will take years and I am embracing the journey.

I discovered a love for cherry vareniki (Russian pierogie) and Alyonka milk chocolate bars which can be found at a Russian OR an Eastern European grocery store. I tried new foods from that culture that I never thought to try.

As an autistic person, I discovered that I actually felt more safe speaking in Russian to native Russians. I also learned how to have code words that I can say in my target language, how to disclose my diagnosis in my target language and I took the time to learn about the culture.

Learning a language is hard, staying motivated is hard but after all — you get what you put in and the results are worth it.

You would be surprised where your target language will become useful, I have used Russian on the bus, online, and even to get myself a slice of medovik which is honey cake.

Thinking of learning a language? Honestly it’s well worth it. Find one that you connect with.

Anything is possible. 

Lisa K.

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
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Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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