The benefits of bilingualism have been trumpeted for like, well, ever. It’s pretty difficult to ignore the facts with recent headlines such as:
- Bilingual Education Holds Cognitive, Social And Health Benefits
- Bilingual babies benefit from learning faster
- Speaking two languages benefits the aging brain
Now, you can add another reason to strive at being bilingual!
Recently, my daughter and I traveled to Africa during the summer holidays. Our schedual was jam packed with fun activities, such as safaris, game viewing, fishing, sightseeing, visiting family and friends, and school.
That’s right, school!
Actually, attending summer school was high on my bucket list, reason being is that my daughter understands English very well; however, she doesn’t speak English at all. Thus, when Laddsworth Primary School in Pietermaritzburg, Natal/KwaZulu, South Africa provided a wonderful and unique opportunity for my daughter to observe 2 weeks of classes I was hopeful she would finally learn to speak English.
She achieved this objective (and more), which I strongly believe is a credit to the excellence of Laddsworth as an educational institution. I would like to relate an incident, which occurred as we were leaving South Africa that validates this belief.
First, however, a bit of background is necessary to put this incident into context. My daughter and I travel on different passports. Further, we use different family names in our passports, she having kept her mother’s. I’m sure you can appreciate how our particular situation could attract the attention of authorities charged with combating the scourge of our times that is global child trafficking. Indeed, right from the outset of our journey, Japan and then Hong Kong, immigration officials took much longer than usual to process our documents running repeated checks.
However, on our departure from Oliver Tambo International Airport in early August it was immediately apparent that my tried and tested modus operandi - a hearty “Good day, Ma’am” followed by a disarming smile - simply would not cut it! The immigration officer left me in no doubt she thought this was a highly suspicious situation, which she was going get to the bottom of. Giving me a very stern, no nonsense look (not unlike a headmistress addressing a mischievous child), the officer motioned for my daughter to step closer and, with a concerned tone, proceeded to gently question her. Naturally, the Q&A was all in English... It was at this point, not having confidence in my child’s ability to speak English at the level warranted by the circumstances, that I had visions of being dragged off to some windowless room in handcuffs. Fortunately, that was not to be - after about five minutes of back and forth in which my daughter spoke almost perfect English, the officer satisfied herself there was nothing untoward going on.
My relief, though, was short lived; the girl stumbled on the last question! Looking confused and not knowing how to respond, she simply stared down at the floor. I realized that if I translated the question from English to Japanese, it would appear that I was ‘coaching’, which would raise the officer’s suspicions again. Thinking quickly, I explained that when we arrived in South Africa three weeks previously my daughter could not speak English at all, and then proceeded to paraphrase the question in English. This time she understood the question and, once again, was able to respond flawlessly.
The immigration officer was genuinely surprised (not to mention impressed) that anyone could learn to speak English in such a short time. When I mentioned that my daughter had attended school in Pietermaritzburg, the inevitable follow up question was: Which school? Happily on our way again, we both called out in unison, with more than a little pride, “Laddsworth Primary School!”
Invest in the effort required to be bilingual - You’ll be richly rewarded. At the very least, your little one will gain a world of confidence (to travel the world)!
About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, owner of Japan, Tokyo based Translation Company English to Japanese Visit SAECULII for the latest professional articles and news on Japanese Translation Services
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