The other day I started up a new WhatsApp group: Lloyds English. I announced it to my close family: Israeli-born offspring and Israeli-born wife, and stipulated that it would serve as a place where we’d communicate only in English. The immediate response to my announcement was: “What are you drinking and are you already drunk?” And then silence. The last words uttered in Lloyds English. So there was nothing left to do but fade back into the linguistic woodwork.
A friend of mine asked me the other day, over a pint of Guinness, what I regret in life. Normally, my response to such a question is that I regret nothing. I believe in learning from mistakes, rather than dwelling in regret. But this time, whether it be the result of my increasing age or growing egocentricity, I admitted to having one regret: that I did not speak English with my children.
Now, in an earlier blog posting: Curiouser and curiouser, I defended my reasoning for not speaking English to my children, and in doing so, robbing them of a golden opportunity for becoming bilingual. If you haven’t read that posting, or have forgotten what it is about, it would be a good idea to read it first. There I explained why my entrance and acceptance into Israeli society was not a simple one, and why much of it was dependent upon my acquiring a working competence in Hebrew. Speaking only English at home, at that time, would have prevented me from reaching the linguistic competence required to meet that goal and would have sent a wrong message – both to those in Israel and in Canada back home, who were waiting for me to come back to my senses and leave Israel – about how serious I was in my endeavour to fully adapt into Israeli society. So, I put my linguistic competence first, above that of my children. I thought that they would have ample opportunity for picking up English on the way. Wasn’t this a small price to pay for not having a father who was a social outcast?
The irony is that, in the long run, all of my effort really didn’t make much of a difference. True, I took university classes in Hebrew, wrote papers in Hebrew, gave lectures in Hebrew, carried on correspondence in Hebrew – but in the end I was still the odd man out. I would never really fit in. Not because of the language, but because of me. I am simply meant to be an outcast, whether I live in Israel, Canada, or on the moon. I reached the point where I felt that I had adapted as well as possible to Israeli society and had nothing left to prove. And it was then, that I began to regress. At times, I felt like I was speaking with stones in my mouth, and Hebrew was often like a hot blanket, under which I lay smothered on a hot summer day. Words only flowed in that ancient language when I felt emotion, and such moments became less and less frequent over time. My adult identity was slowly beginning to crumble. I needed to find a way to slip back into something which was perhaps lost forever: slip back into me.
Would speaking to my children in English help in any way? Or had that ship sailed forever? It’s not that my children don’t know English. They did pick it up along the way. A daughter who now speaks mostly English in her work. A son who is writing a 100+ page MA thesis in English on a very technical subject. And another son who decided one day, through his own volition, to speak to me only in English (and was the only one to applaud the creation of Lloyds English and not question my sobriety).
It seems that I never know when to stop chasing windmills. Don Quixote. It is my battle alone. And in the meantime, Lloyds English still lies there, ignored, like an unwanted orphan. Why should I expect anything more?