Home > Bilingualism, Education > Why I Need Non-Serbian-Speaking People Around me to Continue to Speak Serbian to My Son

Why I Need Non-Serbian-Speaking People Around me to Continue to Speak Serbian to My Son

January is over, we are in the month no. 2, February. I haven’t defined my feelings towards February yet, but I know I enjoyed every moment of January. Maybe for the first time in my life. It was cold, deadly cold on some days. I hate the cold, but not necessary when I am in the warm room, and when I know that I don’t have to step outside. That there is nowhere I have to go. Everything I have to do I can do in/from the warmth of my house.

OK, Andrei and I ventured out quite a few times. We went as far as The Franklin Institute a few times, and we took walks here and there. Occasionally very short ones. Maybe five minutes or ten minutes at the most. Sometimes our plan (or mine) was to stay out only a few minutes , maybe to walk to the end of the block and back, but we ended up taking this long walk that both Andrei and I utterly enjoyed. The cold air around us and the vapor of our freezing breaths looked wondrous, the comradeship with the few people we passed comforting. 

But the truth was it was our choice, not the need that dragged us out of the house. We didn’t have to do it. We could have just stayed in and continued to do what we were doing day in day out: listen to music; make our own music (drums, xylophone, half-broken toy piano, flute recorder, castanets, shakers, tambourines, and of course, can openers, my glasses, whatever might look or sound like a possible musical instrument); read books; paint; make jewelry and animals out of play dough;  do puzzles; have a “picnic” on the kitchen floor; and whatever else we were doing all month.

And the fact that we didn’t have to go anywhere, that we were able to just stay in our cocoon for days on end (Hmm, can I remember when was the last time I stuck my nose outside), oh, that fact that we didn’t have to go out into the cold made all the difference in the world. We played, and played, and played, and then when Andrei napped I did some work and then wrote story after story, and it was the most beautiful January I have experienced in my life – the fact that I had the chance to stay in all thirty-one days of January made this the best January ever.

All this being said, you would have expected me to have gotten a lot of Serbian in all that time Andrei and I spent away from other people.  That would sound logical, wouldn’t it? But, I did very poorly in that respect. Very, very poorly. Yes, I spoke some Serbian to him, of course, I made some effort. But I diverged from Serbian way too often, and I was not disciplined enough to make the effort of going back to it. After all, I was hibernating, and discipline and hibernation don’t go together. So, as the result,  I noticed a slight decline in Andrei’s efforts, in his willingness to repeat my Serbian sentences, and I noticed a different expression on his face when confronted with a lot of Serbian – bewilderment instead of pure openness and fascination.

A few times I acknowledged the fact I was not doing enough, but it didn’t feel like I had energy to do something about it then. For God’s sake, I was hibernating. I couldn’t do much, I could only let go. And I did. Then February came, and it’s still pretty cold, but there is more sun, quite a few days so far that at least looked good, spring-like, we go out more, we are at times surrounded with people speaking English, and I feel  Andrei and I are back on track. Once again, Serbian is a big part of our day.

Now, here is the big question:  Why didn’t we (or rather I) take advantage of all that time I spent with Andrei alone, with very little interference of English? I can’t say. The only thing I can say is this: For the exact same reason for which I was never able to take advantage of those long summers when I was a University of Belgrade student, when I was expected to study all summer long, the entire July and August, to memorize thousands of pages of dry facts and possibly be ready in early September to spit them out into the faces of my incompetent professors. Well, what happened if I acted on my first impulse to simply lock myself in my apartment and study all day long? Nothing. Literally. I had this enormous burden on my shoulders, thousands of pages of dry facts that I knew I had to somehow put into my head, but hours would just go by and I did everything else but study. I read entire novels in a matter of days, I listened to music and stared at the sky, and I felt trapped, ridden with guilt, and powerless as I would glance at the clock every now and then and see how many hours have gone by.

Then I thought of the libraries. I started investing some time in getting out of my pajamas, making myself somewhat presentable, and walking over to the library where, while studying, I was surrounded with people who were doing the same thing, but who also whispered, chewed, hiccuped, rummaged through their bags, shuffled things around, whatever. Theoretically, going to the library to study was a worse deal, having to get myself ready and actually go to a different place and then deal with all these distractions that come with having people around, but in reality this was the only way for me to actually focus on the data that I was supposed to stuff into my head (it’s sad to think that the word data is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of my studies of English language and literature at the University of Belgrade).

Why did I need people around me while I was studying (memorizing the facts, most of which I soon forgot) when it sounded logical that perfect solitude would have been a better environment? For the same reason I need to have people, just regular unknown English-speaking people, around me to help me speak Serbian to my son, to help me see the path I need to walk on. It seems I need that “negative space” around me to help me maintain the clear boundaries of “me” and head where I want to head. Otherwise, I dissolve and the negative space and “me” become one, quite a comfortable state of being, but not a very productive one.

So here I acknowledge, yes, it takes a lot of effort to build a Serbian world in a purely English environment, but on the other hand, I need to feel the somewhat audible beat of that English environment in order to help me hold together my Serbian world.

Life is complicated, isn’t it?

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  1. February 22, 2012 at 10:27 pm

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