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Bringing Up Babel



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“Her is a bad guy!” This is a nerve-racking moment, not the first and not to be the last. My son Henry is describing the squid-witch Ursula, from Disney’s “Little Mermaid”, to his brother Jack. “She” is one of the most common words in the English language, but Henry has botched it and come up with “her”. He has just turned four. He should be able to use “she” properly at his age. Is his bilingual upbringing holding him back?
My wife is Danish; we met and married in New York. I sweated to learn Danish partly because she emigrated to be with me; I wanted to make the deal fair and be part of her world too. If you don’t speak a person’s native language, there’s always a corner of their mind you can’t quite reach. But everyone who has learned a language in adulthood knows how hard it is, with the grammar books and the flash cards, the pronunciation problems and the awkward rhythm, never quite getting to fluency. How much better to raise a genuine bilingual.

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