Friday, April 17, 2009

Languages

The prompt for Sunday Scribblings is Language.

My grandmother Sitzler, only twenty years old, crossed the Atlantic ocean all by herself and without speaking or understanding a word of English. Nor did she have friends or relatives to meet her in New York. This was at a time even before Ellis Island. There was no Statue of Liberty to greet her. I won’t enumerate the troubles her lack of English caused her except to say, briefly, that she was taken into virtual slavery by a well-to-do German family who met arriving ships from Germany to recruit the many maids their mansion required. Eventually Grandma married and moved to the Kansas farm where my mother and her siblings grew up.

Grandmother Sitzler at eighty years of age.

Because my mother thought that it would please Grandma if they could converse in German, she chose German to meet her language requirement at Kansas University, only to discover that Grandma had forgotten most of her German vocabulary. Grandma was fluent in English by then, even though she never lost her German accent.

So what did I choose to fulfill my language requirements in high school and university? Why German, of course! I hung out at German House on campus, and my best friend and I dreamed of traveling to Germany after graduation. We each got married instead.

In 1954 Otto became eligible for a sabbatical leave from the university. I wanted to live for a while in Brazil, the most glamorous to me of the South American countries that my father had explored. So we added a third language - Portuguese. We actually spent two years rather than one in Brazil, and, to varying degrees, our four children were immersed in the Portuguese language. When we returned to the U.S., our youngest - four years old when we went to Brazil, now six years old - would beg, “Por favor, Mamae, vamos falar Portugues.” (Please, mama, let’s speak Portuguese.) I continued to study Portuguese at the university. I love the language and have become a translator of poetry from Portuguese to English.

We lived in Germany for a few months in 1960, and Otto and I slipped easily into everyday German speech. Otto had also studied Russian for a tour through Russia later in the year, and we each learned a little from him - such as “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Thank you” and counting to 100. (Surprising how far that can get one!)

I also studied Italian and Polish in preparation for visits to Italy and Poland. They served me well, and I have forgotten them almost completely.

I could probably write a whole book about how the languages have spread among the younger generations, but what I’ve written thus far should answer the Sunday Scribblings prompt. Be careful what you ask for! You might get much too much of it!

25 comments:

2cats said...

You are so fortunate to have spoken the many languages.
I only speak English and sometimes that not so very well.
I love the stories of your life, and appreciate the chance to share in your memories.

Rinkly Rimes said...

Not fortunate! Just clever and sensible! I am your typical Brit..... can only speak English. In our Colonial past that got us everywhere and now America's taken over we're still speaking ALMOST the same language! It's made us lazy.

Dee Martin said...

I love this story. My grandmother didn't have the language problem, but came from Scotland to Canada and worked as a servant for a family to pay her way over. She DID speak a little bit of Gaelic though. This made me smile to remember her.

Maggie May said...

I really did enjoy this post and I think your Grandmother was extremely brave to do what she did.
I also think that you have been to some very interesting places and done some really exciting things too.
It is good to have a second language & I learnt French at school and did a little italian course when I was young. Neither came to much but even a little knowledge of a language can help when visiting another country, like you said.

anthonynorth said...

This is one area where I have failed miserably. I'm very much a one language person, although I have a son who studied languages.
Another excellent post.

Poetikat said...

You are one accomplished lady with quite a heritage! I live in a city predominantly populated by Germans. We are the home of the largest Oktoberfest in North America. We used to be called, "Berlin".

My 80 year old mother has just gone online for the very first time - we set her up with her first computer a week ago. Any tips?

Kat

Granny on the Web said...

I always think it must be nice to speak several languages. My first husband was from Hong Kong and spoke Cantonese and Hakka dialect, and then English. My younger son worked in Hong Kong when he was older and learnt Cantonese. Then he travelled a lot and met and married a German girls Heidrun, learnt German and their two children speak both German and English. He is good at languages and can speak a little Italian and Spanish.
Now my stepson has followed suit, met a German au pair here in England, and they have just married and he is learning German so he can converse with her family when they go over there to visit. Annika speaks fluent English.
So, the world is shrinking in that so many people are mixing and marrying.
Lovely story about your Grandmother.

Love Granny

americanising desi said...

hey Granny, you are lucky.
me only know 2 fluently :(

you sure are inspiring

http://eternitycallsus.blogspot.com/2009/04/just-feel.html

floreta said...

i think its interesting hearing about your languages! i wouldn't mind something longer :)

nonizamboni said...

I love it when you share the richness of your life experiences--and your ambitious language history. My older[Italian] cousin chose to major in German and as he said, 'It kept me out of the Vietnam war.'
Thanks for sharing, Phyllis!
xxx

SweetTalkingGuy said...

Yeah, nice post. Communication is a wonderful thing.

The American Sandwich

June said...

I'd be interested to know about the nuances of the different languages you know. I studied French for years and still recall a good bit of it. It gives me a different feeling when I speak or read it. I wonder if that's just me and my romanticism, or if you get different feelings from your varied vocabularies.

Lucy said...

you never cease to amaze me groovy gran!
You have led such a diverse, rich life!
How I wish to visit the places you've been to! xo

latree said...

you never stop amaze me. I'm ready for another amazing stories. tell us more, granny, tell us more..

Fledgling Poet said...

What a strong woman your grandmother was...and incredibly courageous! Reading the Sunday Scribblings this week, I'm amazed at how many people speak multiple languages. I wish I was part of that group!

I love your stories...they're so rich with life.

~Kathryn~ said...

my post talks a little about the people i work with - who face some of the issues your grandmother would have ...

i would love to know other languages - spanish and lebanese are the two that intrigue me most

keith hillman said...

How I wish I'd learned other lanuages. English speakers are a complacent bunch!

Linda - Nickers and Ink said...

What a story!

Just had to pop in - I've missed you !

Linda

SIMPLY SNICKERS – weekly poetry prompts

Nana said...

WOW! very impressive! I love that you never stop learning, you just keep adding languages to your repertory, like beads to a necklace.

anno said...

Each language offers its own lens on the world -- how wonderful that you've learned so many!

Winifred said...

What a lovely story about your grandmother and that picture is beautiful especially her hair.

I envy your ability to pick up languages. I've struggled for years with Spanish and enjoy it, I get by shopping and travelling. I've also tried Greek but have given up.

quin browne said...

i admire you and your studies... sadly, i only speak english and american southern...

Life with Kaishon said...

This was so interesting. I love the life you are living. It is magical in so many ways! How fantastic to be a speaker of many languages. I learned a teeny tiny bit of Spanish in high school. I can only remember a few words. The numbers of course and gordo which means fat. My teacher called me up to the front of the class in 11th grade and said Becky isn't gordo she is gordita. I never forgot it...

Beth said...

I love these stories you weave from your personal history. They´re so well told and such a pleasure to read. My grandmother spoke Swedish and English and enriched my understanding of our family history, though in her last year, she lost English entirely. Your humor and positive outlook shines through your writing.

Annie said...

My biggest regret is that I don't speak the language of my mother's parents, Italian. They would not speak it to her and I've always felt it to be a great loss. You were blessed.