An Advice Column I Write to Myself, Letter Ten — Q: Dear Kelly, Why do you speak Italian to your son? Like, seriously?
Hey! Er — I mean — Ciao! Ciao, Kelly! I am wondering why in God’s sweet name you speak Italian to your three-year old. You’re not Italian, right? Your name is like, ULTRA Irish, but I think you’re also Mexican and I think you’re definitely not Italian, and so the fact that you continually speak Italian to your son is just, well, a little weird? I mean, isn’t it? Can you explain more of the reasoning behind your absurd decision? Why Italian? You think it’s cool? You think you’re smart? You think it’s high culture? You think he’ll really learn it? You think he’ll be better than other people that don’t speak a second language? You think you’re better than other people that don’t speak a second language? In short — WHAT GIVES? Why do you keep yelling phrases in a language that you don’t even own and why are you making your little boy your language-acquisition monkey??! Isn’t it all kind of ridiculous?
Rispondimi. (That means ‘Answer me.’ In Italian! I googled it! Tee hee!)
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Ciao. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us! Let’s talk this out.
The answer is obviously multi-faceted. As all answers should be. (Remember that. Everything is multi-faceted. People who teach that things are black and white HAVE THEIR EYES SHUT. Life is just a huge ball of blurry color.)
Alright. I’m tired. And I love lists, so I’m going to start with a list-of-reasons, and then I’ll see where my passion shakes out, and I’ll rage-type near the end to really bring the point home. Sound good? Here I go.
Why I Speak Italian To My Son
- Because I can.
- Because I can.
- I’m not going to say “Because I can” again, but I do want you to get the point. We do a lot of shit just because we can. And there’s nothing ugly in that. (Unless, well, the thing we are doing because we can hurts people. This is not one of those things.)
- Because I learned Italian and that was enough of an odd thing to me that I wanted to have a little in-home experiment and see if I could make another person learn a thing simply because I had learned it. A power move? Yes. And also not at all.
- Because the Italian language is beautiful. I like to hear it come out of my mouth. And his.
- Because expressing myself in another language reminds me that I am capable of things I didn’t think I was capable of. What better gift to give myself every day?
- Because it benefits a child’s brain to learn multiple languages. Scientifically proven so.
- Because it’s cuter to hear a child say “Per favore” than “Please.”
- Because I want my child to realize that knowing two languages means there must be at least two different populations of people that speak different languages…which will help him realize there are a multitude of populations and different languages…which will help him be less ego-centric and less close-minded and less likely to be an asshole.
- Because Italy was and forever will be the place where I felt the most free. And that is something I am allowed to be reminded of. Something I want to be reminded of.
Obviously the most important number in this list is number nine. Like, duh. Duh times one million. When I was young, I went to tiny, tiny school in the middle of farmland Illinois, and though there were maps in our geography room, and we had Spanish in high school— I didn’t REALLY UNDERSTAND THAT ANYONE BESIDES SMALLTOWN COWBOY-BOOT WEARING, 4-H ATTENDING PEOPLE REALLY EXISTED. Meaning anyone that didn’t speak English. Anyone that didn’t do most of their driving on country roads. Nobody else existed in my tiny, little, secluded brain.
I don’t know if Oliver knowing his colors and his numbers and a bunch of key words in another language is going to make him more curious and more accepting of other people. I don’t know if his being able to watch entire cartoons in Italian — and to giggle at the appropriate points — means he will study abroad or realize that English isn’t superior to all other means of communication. But I am willing to risk it. I am willing to roll my rr’s every damn day over here, here in Madison, Wisconsin — in the great hope that the mere acquisition of another language will result in my child being more tolerant of others. I feel stupid sometimes, yes. I hate explaining to people that I’m not, in fact, Italian, but that I once learned the language years ago, all on my own, and that I decided I should speak to my son in that language at least 90% of the time. Sometimes, my face gets red when I hear a foreign phrase fly out of my mouth, across an open field, across a store, across the table when we are sitting with others. But I forge ahead. I forge ahead anyway. In a stubborn headlock with hope. Hope is never ridiculous.
And if you are someone who thinks that my actions are senseless or stupid or shameful or anything less than admirable — VAFFANCULO.
That means “Fuck you.”