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Maintaining a language at home

June 19, 2012

Passing down a language

THIS STORY APPEARED IN
Boston Articles
June 10, 2012
Classes are taught largely in Spanish at the Amigos School in Cambridge. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff )

When my brother and I were kids, our parents would sit us down for some evening conversation with a little girl named Hélène. Hélène was French; she lived with her apron-skirted mother, tassel-shoed father, and a brother name Pierre. On our 12-record box set of language lessons, Hélène would do things like oversleep, causing her family to break into song: “ Bonjour Hélène, bonjour Hélène/ C’est le matin, c’est le matin!’’

As the turntable played I thought, nobody ever sings when I oversleep. We were utterly bored with the record, but for our Haitian parents, who spoke French and Creole at home, Hélène had a vital importance. She was the girl who would make us a French-speaking family, and ensure their heritage did not die with them.

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