I can speak two languages. People have told me how lucky I am for being bilingual.
To be honest, it is the only life I know, and I find this skill a double-edged sword.
1. I am not sure I uttered more than 100 words my entire kindergarten year. I would seesaw with Becky during recess, and I just remember seeing her mouth moving and smiling. The words made no sense. The childish grin, however, spoke volumes.
The first year of being introduced to one’s second language is referred to as “the silent period,” an unwillingness or inability to orally communicate. This is a normal phenomenon, and I surely played my silent role. With my chosen profession, I have definitely made up for the quietness in my early educational years.
Interpreter, I am.
2. Starting at the age of 6, I became my parents’ interpreter. I would interpret at Eckerd’s, school, Richardson Square Mall when ordering an Orange Julius – wherever and whenever needed. As a child, I was resentful. As a teenager, I was annoyed. As an adult, I am grateful I was able to assist them in communicating their needs, wants and requests. Again, I have a better understanding of why my heart chose our awesome profession.
Being Bilingual = Let me help
3. As a bilingual speech-language pathologist, I do not have the words to describe helping Vietnamese families and children. When parents walk into a meeting and see me, I see the angst leave their faces. I have been in a meeting when the mother would tightly hold my hand and tell me, “Xin giúp tôi nói chuyện.” “Please help me communicate to them.” I have had the parent of a fourth grader cry after the end of a meeting. She stated that it was the first time in her son’s academic career where she felt like someone understood her. I interpret at meetings, and I do assessments in Vietnamese. It is a part of my job. However, each time I assist a child or family, I feel like I am making my parents proud. I am able to help and give back to people who lived my parents’ lives. This feels good.
The More Languages, the Merrier
4. Because I am bilingual, I understand, twofold, the beauty of each individual language. One of my greatest joys is standing in a highly dense, urban area and hearing the various languages, words and dialects swimming around me. There are sounds I admire and cannot produce. There are words I am confident I understand by the mere companion gestures.
Words are Overrated
5. I also see how people are able to transcend the barriers of language to still communicate their intent. There’s a lot to be said for a smile or a helping hand.
Being bilingual is more than just talk. It is my interactions with my dad on a daily basis. It is finding the perfect word to describe the mango I am eating. It is sharing in a chuckle about a mutual experience. It is surely meaningful to live in two equally-important worlds.