Opinion: You need roots to grow


Credit: Lina Baranovsky

Pictured above is Lina Baranovsky and her grandmother.

Lina Baranovsky

I was annoyed at my parents and grandparents for forcing Russian down my throat. Instead of speaking English at home, the language of their new country and the only country I knew, they said “nyet” to English. At preschool, I would stand against the fence at the playground while everyone else played together. I would come home crying because I didn’t understand what my peers were saying. But it was a blessing in disguise.

My whole extended family, including my parents, are from Russia and immigrated in 1994. From when I was born until I turned five, the only language I heard around me was Russian. Speaking, reading and writing in my house all took place in one language only. Later, my parents put me into an American preschool and right off the bat it was difficult. However, young kids pick up languages quickly, and I was no exception. It would have been easy for me to stop speaking Russian at home because at first everyone there knew at least a little English. But when my grandparents came to this country, they had trouble getting the hang of the new language. I have loved listening to my grandparents’ stories about their lives, their obstacles during the war, their jobs and how they lived. If I weren’t fluent in Russian, I wouldn’t be able to understand what they had to say.

It is important to know your roots and where your ancestors come from; if you are a first generation American, and you don’t try to make an effort to know your parents’ language, you leave yourself deaf to your own culture.

Learning the parents’ mother tongue is up to the parents as well because they are the ones that organize lessons and teach their child how to speak, read, and write. It is very easy, however, to reject the language if your parents try to force it upon you. Do not dismiss it; although it may be frustrating and annoying at the moment, in the future, you will look back and thank them.

As if the power of communication weren’t enough, studies show that the process of learning a foreign language helps brain development. Ping Li, professor of psychology at Penn State University explains, “Learning and practicing something, for instance a second language, strengthens the brain. Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger.”

I know it’s true; when I first began studying French in seventh grade, I recognized the process of learning a foreign language. New vocabulary, grammar structures, and aspects of a foreign culture seemed to come almost naturally to me because of my bilingual upbringing.

If you are a first generation American, you are fortunate. When you learn the language of your parents, you are blessed enough to be part of a beautiful reality; on one hand, you are immersed in American culture and on the other you get to speak another language with your family and relate to another country’s culture on a personal level. Your parents immigrated to this country in search of a better life for their families. The least you can do in exchange for the life they have given you is to learn their first language. How can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from?