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April 16, 2015


Brenda Larsen Grove

Sounds very interesting. Good for you to take on such new ventures. I look forward to your future posts and experiences. Take care, Brenda Larsen Grove

Lorraine Rallof

I think what you are doing is just great. I forward the "Well Read Life" to many of my family & friends. They tell me they enjoy getting them, so I keep sending them. I am a first generation American. My parents, Marianna Selke & Jacob Reinert, came to America separately, in the early nineteen hundreds. I am the last surviving member of a family of seven siblings, me number seven. I am eighty five & wish I could remember more of the German I heard & understood as a child. The first five were more fluent in German than the last three of us, as the family became more & more English than German. I tried to take German in High School, but the teacher that taught it in our small town in the 1940's joined the army & wasn't replaced. He also taught art, which was my dream, so could not take that subject either. Keep doing what you are doing & keep us informed. I am getting this because of my connection thru your catalogue. Thank you for the privilege of being a receiver of Well Read Life & sharing with friends & family.

Lorraine Rallof, Neenah, WI

Steve Leveen

Dear Lorraine,

Wow, what a lovely message!

Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing your memories. What a tragedy that the German language has been so diminished in the US. The two World Wars knocked all the wind out of its sails for sure, as your story corroborates.

My best wishes to you.


Karen Gross

In response to how we become a multilingual nation...

1) Respect is a good place to start. We often don't respect those who come to the US & do not speak English well; yet, most Americans would not be able to speak another language fluently were they to go abroad. If anything, those in foreign nations look askance at us in the US for our absence of language skills.

(2) We need to focus not on language per se but on culture; one reason to learn a 2nd or 3rd language is to appreciate & understand differing cultures. This contributes to diversity in so many ways -- art, literature, culture, film, politics, government.

(3) How we teach languages in the US is an issue; our experience in K - 20 has not always been optimal. Many students take years of a language in school and yet cannot speak that language well; and language development draws on unique parts of the brain that are worth developing.

(4) Without being harsh, I could say that the question is a straw person. We are a multilingual nation now actually but we do not recognize or acknowledge and value those who speak more than one language since they are "immigrants" & are not among the "elite." In other words, many languages are spoken across America -- from more commonly known languages to those less commonly known ones. There is French and Creole and Japanese and Korean. There is also Hmong and Pennsylvania Dutch (for Amish) and Yiddish. Could we recognize the abilities and contributions of those already here --- and tout their many language skills and cultural acumen (as we reflect on our own paucity of acceptance and lack of breadth of understanding)?

We are a multilingual nation. Truly.

Brett Yenzer

The tone of "entitled liberal" thinking is quite prevalent in your posits/questions, ex.
"do children have a RIGHT to be raised bilingually?"
"•Might bilingualism be a matter of public health?
Both the aforementioned statements wreak of government over-lording onto personal freedoms. STOP IT! You're writing as if you're a child!

Try this:
1. Actually learn and immerse yourself into the real difference between the two words, liberty and freedom. They are NOT the same.
2. Watch Youtube Thomas Sowell clips. Doing so will rip that lollipop-like childish thinking right out of your mouth. And, you'll LIKE it! It's like ripping the blinders off your mind!

Steve Leveen

Dear Brett,

I admire your vivid writing and sincerely appreciate your strong feelings on this. I've read of couple of books by Thomas Sowell and admire his intellect and fierce way of speaking out. His writing about the experience of skilled immigrants, and the common blaming of them instead of thanking them for the needed skills they bring, is most important. I loved his memoir, too.

I will defend asking the questions I've asked here. Children presently do have some rights to education. Parents are not free to keep their children at home and not have them taught anything. So their existing rights have followed some arc, and who is to say where that arc will lead?

Understand, I am not advocating for their right to be raised bilingually, but the question is useful. One could argue that there are plenty of other important things children can uniquely learn at an early age, such as music or programming. And perhaps "right" is too strong of a word--perhaps it should just be far more available and easy for parents to raise their children bilingually, if they wish to do so.

Then again, when a right is first suggested in history, it is often met with ridicule. Sometime around 1915, I can imagine a man saying, "Women have the right to vote? Don't be ridiculous. They already can express their opinions to their husbands!"

Anyway, I appreciate your views and look forward to hearing more.


Deborah Cordier

Hi Steve,

Bravo! Thinking of how far you have moved forward from the Delray Public Library screening of Speaking in Tongues several years ago. So very happy for your success. A fellow traveler, Deb Cordier

Canadian Language Lover

Hi Steve,

I thought I'd get my penny's worth in here.

Glad to here you are taking another language; my dad, in his 60s, took Spanish, too.

When I was at school in London, England, I learned English, French, German and Hebrew. I had taken English (obviously) and French in my primary school--which I guess is kind of lucky as I ended up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where it is really handy having more than one language.

My German and Hebrew are really rusty, but at least I get to use some French--especially reading food labels.

I did try taking up other languages over the years, but didn't get too far with them--mainly Russian and, of all things, Egyptian hieroglyphics. Didn't get too far at all with Russian, but I did get somewhere with the hieroglyphics: totally confused.

My current try is Scottish Gaelic. I'm not going to say how far I've got there...yet. -)

Good luck with the Spanish--and yes, I think everyone should learn, if not a new language, something new every year.

Jackie Kampe

Thanks for your update. Another life learner passionate about life. You go, Steve. Keep those articles coming.

Ryusho Jeffus

What a wonderful posting. At age 54 I began studying Japanese. I was required to be able to speak it in order to complete my ordination and training in Japan to become a Buddhist priest. The Buddhist priest part had been a dream/goal of mine since my 20’s. However, as with many after Vietnam, my dream had to be put on hold for the task of living. Finally the opportunity presented itself, with the scary requirement of learning Japanese.

I grew up in New Orleans in the 50’s and 60’s. I studied French for 6 years. At the end of 6 years, I could read it but not speak, or really track a conversation. How the heck was I going to learn Japanese in less time? After two years of very hard work, with the intensity of a much more mature self, I was able to speak and manage conversationally. Imagine my surprise and pride. It was hard, it required hours and hours of intense study both in school and with a private tutor, and with classmates who were willing to be as intense. After three years I was ready.

I did complete my ordination and my dream of my youth, with the added bonus of doing something that still amazes me.

Now, I am revisiting French and trying to pick that back up. I have been fortunate to travel to France a couple of times and have met some wonderful people who are very forgiving of my language shortcomings. There is one person I met on my last trip to France, and the way we communicated most effectively was by speaking Japanese to each other; it was the common tongue between us. I have also been in Japan and spoken with Germans using Japanese.

Like you, I am drawn to now try to learn Spanish. It is hard at times to keep the languages sorted out in my brain. Now being 65, it is so exciting to know that it might be possible to be conversational in three other languages.

I enjoy your postings and especially like your products. I recently changed hospitals where I work as a chaplain. Some nurses wanted to give me a going-away present. They surprised me with a gift certificate from your company because they knew I ordered pens from you.

I cheer you on!

With Gassho (a term of respect and appreciation),

M. Fogel

Good for you. I, too, took Spanish in high school. At least...I knew the sounds of the letters. My help came in hiring an Argentinian to live with us. She spoke no English. I bought a dictionary of English to Spanish and Spanish to English and we used the book between us. My two-year-old son understood Spanish. My four-year-old daughter did not like her so learned no Spanish. I improved, and even my husband moved forward.

In 1968 we went to Mexico for a conference. We were robbed, and wanted to report it to the police. We were on a street where bedding, etc. was sold, and the names sounded Jewish. I stopped a man to ask (in broken Spanish) where the police office was. He did not speak English, but I asked if he spoke German. My husband could speak Yiddish. We had a three-way conversation in broken present-tense Spanish, English and Yiddish. We all enjoyed the experience and never found the police station.

Lynn Buchanan

I have now pretty well filled up my library, a rather large room attached to the back of my small house (a story in itself) with bookshelves (several dozen) from Levenger. Not much room for anything else, even though I still buy and read more books and enjoy looking through the Levenger catalogues.

I am still working (sort of) at my warehouses but have written one book of my adventures, (58 YEARS), the story of my adventures in the mountains helping others who get into trouble in those mountains, and find that I have had enough adventures that I would rather read other writers' fiction stuff.

We had a truck driver come in who insisted that my truck scale operator had to learn “Spanish.” They mostly speak “Mexican,” according to a Cuban truck driver who says he speaks Castilian Spanish. I met him on his next trip to the scales and greeted him in Japanese. He tried “Mexican” again and when I replied in Japanese, he decided that American English was a good business language.

You folks on the East Coast have a good spring, now that you stole all our skiing snow for your winter.

Lynn Buchanan
Washington State

Melinda Lockwood

I agree that our children should be bilingual. The difficulty comes when deciding which second language? Growing up, I took Latin and French. Latin has helped me most in life, as it is the root of our language and that of many other languages – making learning a language easier.

Sadly, our children today (the ones in most public schools) are not being taught the very basics needed to succeed at even a minimal level. Arithmetic, reading at grade level, spelling, grammar. It is useless to spend good money teaching them a second language when they cannot communicate effectively in English. Go to a store and make a purchase. If the cashier does not have the register upon which to rely, s/he cannot make change. A second language will do them no good until they can function at a basic level.

So, while I agree with you in total, we have much much bigger problems to be dealt with before we can tackle multilingualism.

Bob Zobel

I am delighted to hear that you are enjoying your fellowship and I find the research you are doing into multilingual studies fascinating. I remember sitting with some other students in a youth hostel in Italy nearly 40 years ago and watching a Swiss student move easily from English to French to Italian to German in his conversation. Certainly the Swiss have a natural geographic advantage when it comes to emphasizing multiple languages, but that isn’t the only explanation.

Our son is bilingual, having started with Spanish at an early age and staying with it through high school and college (he had a double major in Economics and Spanish Studies). My point is that it is possible if an early start is accompanied by parental encouragement. Unfortunately, too many Americans regard a foreign language as something to endure through high school and have no interest in suggesting to their children that they should “invest” in learning a second language.

So how does one turn the learning of a second language into a cultural issue? I used the word “cultural” intentionally because American Jews send their children to Hebrew School at age 8, and they study through their bar or bat mitzvah. While some of the linguistic skills exhibited at a later age are rote memorization, there is definitely retention of ability to read and speak Hebrew. Maybe the answer is to take advantage of our goal-oriented society and embed the language of a second language into satisfaction of certain curriculum requirements, knowing that a large segment of the population will view such shift as discriminating against the lesser privileged.

There is also the issue of the number of native-born young students who struggle enough with speaking understandable English, much less reading and writing.

Even Americans who travel broadly generally assume they will find enough people in foreign countries who speak English—recognizing that most Americans don’t anticipate leaving North America during their lifetimes, and they assume Mexico is so assimilated when it comes to English that they don’t need to learn a second language. Our experience has been that any effort to speak the native language is greatly appreciated, even if that is next to impossible in places like Japan, China and Thailand. The important thing IMHO is that we teach the skill of learning languages rather than simply a second language itself.

M. Russula

Getting Americans to learn another language would indeed be a challenge. I lived in Europe for a couple of years and noted that the incentive to learn another language is much stronger there due simply to the smaller size, proximity and interdependence of other countries. France, for example, shares a border with eight countries!

In the US, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have some advantage, but the rest of America is principally one vast expanse of an English-only speaking culture with little incentive to learn another language. Consider that Europe is comprised of state-sized countries, all intimately connected. Imagine if every state in the United States spoke a different language, *then* you would see people scrambling to learn another language!

I agree that total immersion is the best way, but it is not the only way. I was fortunate enough to live in Spain as a young man and was able to pick up the language fairly quickly. From there I taught myself to read French, Italian, Portuguese and am now working on German. It gets in your blood.

Bueno, suerte con el español. ¡Que te vaya bien!

Dr. Harrison Solow

Wonderful post. I learned Welsh (in Wales) well over age 50. I know you will succeed. Success is your default position. :) Pob lwc. (Good luck).

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