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Bicultural Living

Bring Peace a Little Closer

When I was 16 years old, I learned that there was much more to Germany than hops and green grass. With a Congress-Bundestag scholarship, I went to live with a host family in Bonn for an entire year. I knew exactly two words of German when I arrived.

Over the months I managed to learn enough German to attend high school classes. During a Christmas visit to my aunt, who lived in Geneva at the time, I told her about my cultural confusion. I was very homesick, and everything about Germany irked me. She replied to my complaints by saying: “Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll marry a German!” I gave her a one-word reply: “Never!” She must have had fortune-telling powers, because nine years later I did just that.

One hot August day in 1994, my entire family participated in our bilingual wedding ceremony held at my husband’s hometown church at the foot of the Black Forest. That was the beginning of a very long journey.

When my husband and I moved to Boston three years into our marriage, our priorities shifted. The world would have to wait to be saved another day. Then came children. When we were certain we would stay in Boston for many years to come, we decided to raise our children bilingually. German was our designated “family language.”

On top of speaking German to our kids, I also took them to a German playgroup in Cambridge and created a German reading group at the Somerville Library near our house. Several loyal attendees brought their children as well; we sang songs and read German books. During my time there, several other language groups were encouraged to do the same. At one point, the Somerville Library had a Russian, Spanish, French, and German reading group for children.

When my husband’s employment brought us back to Germany, we were grateful that our children were bilingual. Dr. Norbert Herschkowitz writes in his book, A Good Start in Life: Understanding Your Child's Brain and Behavior, “[T]he ease with which young children learn two languages at the same time may be due to the fact that they are learning both languages with the same first language‚ brain systems.” The same area of the brain is used for both languages; whereas a child who learns a foreign language after around age 12 uses a different section of his or her brain to retrieve the same information.

Bilingual children have also been tested and found to have better fine motor skills and have scored higher than their monolingual peers on tests in which rapid thinking was required.

Despite the culture clashes that sometimes occur between our two worlds, we have found a balance between our German and American heritage. Language and culture flow together in harmony as we celebrate the Fourth of July in our German backyard. Living in two cultures has enhanced who we are as people, has opened our children’s minds, and has extended our family across the globe. Bicultural living has brought the possibility of world peace a little closer to our hearts as we pass on our knowledge to the next generation.

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