in

Love ItLove It

When Two Languages Collide

My parents were refugees who had to flee their homeland Latvia during WWII. They went through the DP or Displaced Camps in Germany where they also got married and eventually arrived in the U.S. to begin a new life. My mom left behind her mother who now was living under the Iron Curtain of the U.S.S.R. Since my grandmother was well on in years my parents managed to arrange to have her immigrate to the U.S. She longed to spend the rest of her days with her daughter, her son-in-law, and of course her granddaughter – me. When my grandmother arrived in the U.S. she didn’t speak a word of English and wasn’t about to learn the language at her age.

At that time she was already in her 70s. It wasn’t really necessary for her because living with my parents we spoke Latvian at home and anywhere she went even to visit relatives who had also come to the U.S. she could communicate in her mother tongue. When she took me out to the park or to any store she relied on me and on her ability to show or point at what she wanted. It was an odd situation since at that time I was only four years old but it seemed to work for grandma. My mom, having been in America for a number of years already and working for an accounting firm in Manhattan in New York City it was becoming difficult to remember not to confuse the two languages – Latvian and English.

The crisis was when my mom and grandma went out shopping. My mom was confusing both languages Latvian and English and it was sometimes difficult to understand her. Well, first of all, let me explain. In the Latvian language traks (which means crazy person) is pronounced like the English word trucks. So the two of them are about to cross the street when my mom sees that a big truck is heading straight for grandma. She starts yelling at grandma in Latvian the translation being,” Look out!” ”Traks”. Referring to the big truck bearing down the street. However, grandma hearing traks stops dead in front of the route of the truck and shouts in Latvian translation being” Where is he?” She was thinking that mom was warning her of a crazy person about to attack her. My mom shoved her onto the sidewalk in the nick of time. Grandma was sputtering and angry wondering why mom shoved her and didn’t even notice the big truck going by. This incident nearly got grandma and mom up to the pearly gates ahead of time.

The photo is of my grandma and me. Her name was Emily or Emilija in Latvian.

  • Question of

    If you speak English and another language do you sometimes get them confused?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    If you are learning English does it sometimes get confusing and do you prefer then to speak in your own language?

    • Yes
    • No

Report

What do you think?

13 points

3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply