No Greater Love: My Mother, a Dedicated Linguist and Educator

My mother is a certified interpreter. At the age of 18, she chose a university education in interpreting (English and French), over marriage. Her father had told her that is was going to be either one, or the other.

Practice Creates Mastery: Paris

After graduating from university in Heidelberg, she decided to move to Paris. She started off doing office work, and her French reached top levels. She also began reading French literature and even dated a Frenchman for a while.

Not only was Paris an outstanding language lesson, it was a highly cultural one too. My mother ended up renting from an older French lady: Madame Dubois. She had a luxurious home in Paris where she lived by herself after her husband had died.

Madame Dubois was extremely proficient in all that concerns French culture: from the history of the country, especially during the world wars through which she had lived, to French etiquette and cuisine. What an opportunity for my mother at the time, learning from someone who was a young woman in the twenties! To this day, she makes my favorite vinaigrette dressing.

London

After five years in Paris, my hero decided to strengthen her knowledge of English and moved to the United Kingdom. She stayed about one year. Today she still has a slight British accent when speaking Italian and refers to mothers as ‘mums’.

Germany

Back in Germany, she worked in an office taking care of all writing (she was really fast on the old-fashioned typewriters), including translation work when required.

And by the time she had children, guess what? Fostering a love and knowledge of languages became a high priority of hers.

Another Move: Trilingual Switzerland

Vintage Typewriter Lumberjack | Tell Language SolutionsThough my younger sister and I were born in Germany, my family moved to the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland when I was 4. What a perfect place to raise multilingual kids!

In the beginnings, my parents did not have the time or resources to take Italian lessons. They just heard it and repeated.

As a kindergartener, I learned all the Italian I needed in one year – not without some level of cultural shock and misunderstandings. To this day, I do not know why my teacher slapped me in the face one day.

At home my parents spoke only German, refusing to switch language when we would answer in Italian.

Learning Languages in Switzerland

Foreign language classes started in middle school with French, then German. English and Latin were offered as electives. So in middle school I was learning 3 new languages, Latin (not sure why I chose that struggle!) included.

My mother sent her daughters to a French or English speaking country most summers. She found families that would host us and she would host their children in return. Due to her busy work schedule, she arranged for us to eat lunch with our Swiss-French friends twice a week. Though we never became fans of their Alsatian cooking, my sister and I did learn more French.

In the meanwhile, my hero became an enthusiastic German teacher, very committed to didactics and to practicing by speaking. She created opportunities for her students to use German whenever possible.

Her three fundamental language learning principles were and still are: speaking, speaking and speaking!

Though my mother has been teaching for decades and beyond her retirement, she also translated architectural books. As a German native speaker, she translated into German from Italian originals. Despite her love for linguistic precision, the translation work seemed to be a little lonely for her.

Being a linguistic educator was and still is her true calling. She teaches with passion, creativity and persistence. Anybody, no matter what natural talents, can learn a language from her.

The Following Generations

After college in St. Gallen (German speaking Switzerland), it was my turn to go abroad. In Brussels, I mostly worked in French, and in Vienna, I adapted my German to the regional flavor. English has been my most spoken language for many years now, and the U.S.A. has now become my home. I still have many opportunities to speak German, less Italian and even less French.

As a mother, I was not able to pass my languages down to my children, even though I tried. Their circumstances were very different from mine, and actively learning 3 languages in their school system is unheard of. I am proud of my youngest one’s love for Spanish, and I try to learn it with him. We even activated Spanish keyboards on our iPhones so that we can properly text in the language!

Ultimately, no other language speaks to your heart the way the language your mother spoke to you does. It brings back many memories that touch us in our emotions.

Thank you mother, for being there, speaking to me and teaching me, so patiently and caringly, day after day.

“God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.”
― David C. GrossDictionary of 1000 Jewish Proverbs