The chronicles of learning a language that was never my first. Oh, and that damn Duolingo owl.
Oh Jenna, this is all so very touching. I wish I was there to give you hugs and be a crying partner. I can honestly say that the empty nest (for me) has never filled up but it isn’t usually aching nor raw. Small mercies. The closest full nest was actually when Mark recently made a solo trip to visit us here. He, Lara and I took a day trip to Bainbridge Island and I spent much of he day consciously soaking in the 3-ness of yore. It was worth it having just those few days. The nest is still feeling the warmth.
So many hugs Jenna— so much of what you wrote here was reflected in our lives as children of Korean immigrants. The conversation you wrote of with your father is one that I’ve seen in my own kakao chats. Cheering you on as you continue your daily battles with Duolingo and finding peace in the righteous claiming of your culture and history.
I felt this so much, especially the part about not being ___ enough and at the same time not being American enough. My parents speak Mandarin, Tagalog, and a dialect of Chinese that is only spoken in a small part of Asia. I grew up not speaking any of these languages fluently, yet languishing in disappointment when I tried to. Then being teased for pronouncing things incorrectly. My grandmother recently passed from a stroke + dementia and we were never able to communicate effectively, enough for me to learn about her and her past. Everything I know is through secondhand stories from my mom and her siblings. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. With my own biracial kid, he is even further removed from my mother languages, and I can feel that part of me slipping away. This makes me want to try to do the learning together so we can have each other to practice with. Without the judgement or embarrassment.
It’s so tough to learn/master a new language. Out of our huge group of friends, we only have one that manage to get their kids to speak fluent mandarin. Most of the kids are resistant to speak/learn mandarin unless it’s during their weekly mandarin class.
I just found your Substack and am so thrilled. So much of what you write resonates strongly for me. My mom is 92 and from Japan, and still in denial over being in the US. My Japanese is nowhere near fluent but I’ve worked so hard over the years to get better, and three out of my four kids even studied it in college. Language cuts to the core of who we are, and not being able to really and truly converse with our older family members hurts. Hugs to you and condolences. I’m so glad you had that conversation with your dad. I’m reading your entire archive, you have so much good stuff in there.
I can relate to this story because my father has dementia as well and I'm writing a book about our journey together. It is difficult and heart breaking and I am grateful to have read your story. I'll be following you closely! Thank you for sharing. 💔
This was a wonderful piece. Thanks for sharing. I've had a similar experience growing up not speaking Hindi but being from an Indian family in the US. Its encouraging to hear you've found a way to pursue and learn the language. It gives me hope I'll one day be able to do the same!
Hi Jenna, I found this piece in the Explore section and am so glad I did. I lost my dad a year ago in very different circumstances. His was a sudden heart attack; there one moment and gone the next. I've wondered often about which is more cruel: the long, protracted deterioration and sad, slow ending or them being themselves until the end, but not having the chance at all to say goodbye. I think it's all sore, though. It's all grief in the end. Wishing you and your family well as you continue to navigate this new, strange fatherless land.