Toward the end of the Passover holiday, I was out at dinner with Chaim and Elizabeth at a friend’s home and was in the middle of telling Chaim that he had to wait only a little bit longer before food would be served, and someone decided that it was the perfect time (mid sentence) to ask me why it was that I chose to speak to Chaim only in Romanian. After I got over the initial shock that he could not seem to wait until I was finished with my sentence (perhaps he thought it was okay to interrupt because he didn’t understand me) I responded, and as I explained it occurred to me that it might be prudent to explain it here as well — for the record.
The real question that the person was asking was not why I spoke a foreign language to Chaim. I don’t think that anybody questions the value of children being able to speak and understand multiple languages — being able to speak more than one language is linked to an increase in cognitive ability, among other benefits. People who are not familiar with the Romanian language sometimes think of it as not too different from the Klingon language — interesting in theory for those who speak it, but completely useless otherwise.
I told him that Romanian is a language that has its roots in Latin — it is in fact the only Eastern European Romance language. As such, it makes it considerably easier for those who know one Romance language to learn another. For example, I studied both French and Italian when I was a student at Rutgers University, and loved studying French so much that I made it my minor.
Because of my background speaking Romanian from when I was a child, I found it easier to learn and retain the language. People often tell me they cannot believe that the country of Dracula could have a language similar to, say, Italian. I tell them the following example — in Italian, the word for pleasure is piacere. In Romanian, the word is placere. Off by only one letter — and I then go on to give them some other examples, leaving them usually impressed and apologetic.
Furthermore, there is something that goes beyond the practical value of the language and that is the value of preserving his heritage. My parents and grandparents came from Romania in 1974 and the Romanian language was the first one that I spoke — I initially refused to watch Sesame Street because it wasn’t in Romanian.
I realize that it is a bit of a stretch to hope that Chaim will also teach Romanian to his children and that they will teach it to their children, but it is a nice thought. The Romanian language is a strong tie that connects Chaim to not just his father but his grandparents, great-grandparents, and further.
When I explained this to the person who had interrupted my attempt to reassure Chaim of the forthcoming meal, he smiled and said that he hoped it went well and I went back to letting Chaim know about the food that was on its way.