Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bilingual Baby?

We get about 14 metric tons of junk mail a week. I suppose we’re partly culpable for this situation, as we somehow managed to get married, buy a house, remodel said house, and have a baby within one ludicrous span of 18 months. One might say we’ve spent our way into the wheelhouse of the vast majority of all marketers on earth. I hear the only two target markets we don’t fall into are the “Recent Empty Nester Baby Boomers” and the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.”

Anyway, my solution for managing all this junk is to open the mail standing over the recycle bin. Almost everything gets ripped and dumped immediately, and the rest goes in a stack on the countertop, to be, well, ripped and dumped later. Today, a mailer with a big fuzzy green cartoon monster wearing a leather motorcycle helmet and riding in a hot air balloon caught my attention. It probably would have slipped past me, were it not for the leather motorcycle helmet – who wears those anymore? Turns out the monster's name is “Muzzy” and he’s the lead character in what this particular piece of junk mail claims to be “The #1 Language Course for Children.”

Underneath the hot air balloon slinked a phrase that shook me: “Does your child speak only English?”


Well, actually my child speaks only Caveman, which allows her to most effectively demand juice, noodles, music boxes, the remote control, and occasionally a partially used wand of mascara. But I’m terrified that her grunts and squeaks will evolve into only English.

I’m quite aware that growing up as a native English speaker is just about the best advantage one can have in the global economy. And it’s even better that she won’t be saddled with an accent that makes her sound like a cab driver from Queens or a waitress from Biloxi. With any luck, she’ll avoid “like, the California-speaking-like-everything-is-a-question?” tick, and will gain further advantage by sounding more like Ann Curry than a quintessential ‘80’s Valley Girl.

But this won’t be enough, I know it. I’m 38 years her senior and my dim grasp of Spanish and French are already not enough in a world that has zoomed past me into a new millennium. Like it or not, everyone in serious contention for top jobs and spots in top schools is multi-lingual. Everyone. In my last corporate job, which was a coveted marketing position with the world’s largest food company, it was almost as common to hear post-meeting chatter in Spanish as it was to hear it in English. In my short stint there, I worked with compatriots from Spain, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Argentina, just to name a few. They found my feeble attempts to learn their language to be quite charming, but it was clear that their proficiency in Spanish admitted them into a cozy and powerful club, while I remained outside with my nose pressed against the glass.

I want more for my Pod of Peas, but will I find the answer with Muzzy? He is, after all, endorsed by the BBC – it says so right there on the brochure. Heck, I don’t even have to invite the leather-helmeted fuzzy monster into my house, since my forward-thinking dear friend already gave us a different brand of Spanish language CDs as a Christmas gift. But doesn’t it seem like wishful thinking to imagine that one can so easily buy the gift of Spanish for their child? After all, I don’t just want her to be able to count to ten and point at a dog and say “Perro.” Any slob can learn that from watching Sesame Street. I want her to speak actual Spanish. With actual other people who speak Spanish.

The question I have to ask myself, is how far am I willing to go? Suficiente distante, espero.

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