Judge John Hodgman Episode 78: The Mother Tongue


Matthew and his wife Y want to raise their children to be bilingual in English and in Y's native language, Vietnamese. Matthew's Vietnamese is pretty rusty, so he thinks Y should teach him and their children at the same time. Y thinks that Matthew needs to study on his own until he can keep up. Who is right?



I have to disagree with the judge on this one

I'm usually in the same camp as the judge and have found him to be both wise and just but in this instance I have to disagree.
I've lived in foreign countries and had to learn a language and both lived with people trying to learn a language so I feel like I understand the process.
The judge mentioned that the brain has a sink or swim reflex when it comes to immersion in language and I agree with that, yet when you are in shallow water the temptation to plant your feet is always there and it makes it harder to learn to swim; or in other words the knowledge that you can speak in English and have your wife understand you is always there in the back of your mind. That is the reason why even though they had tried the "no more English" approach in the past, it had always failed.
What I have found works the best is the approach I call the say everything twice approach, here you say whatever you need to say in English first and then repeat it in the language you are learning or teaching. This method allows the people to continue to communicate while teaching and learning the language. It still takes discipline but it is a lot less frustrating and I have found it to actually work.

Is there anyone who can translate?

I am one of those people who *has* to know what was just said whenever I hear or see something in a language I don't understand (thus, this post)
Is there anyone who is able to transcribe and possibly translate Y's closing statement?


I hope you have been able to continue your life without having the translation. I am a Vietnamese learner and I have a similar issue. Just in case you haven't, here it is from a very helpful user at italki.com:

"Because at home, I want both... everyone to speak Vietnamese, so I suggest that Matt must study Vietnamese, study Vietnamese by himself. I will help him, but he must try harder and harder because I don't have enough time to sit down and teach him word by word. So he have to learn it by himself and I will give him more instructions. Personal effort."

A point of clarification your honor. . .

If it please the court, I would like to point out that for the summary judgement challenge the honorable Judge Hodgman incorrectly cited that Christopher Plummer portrayed the character of Admiral Chang in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country, when I'm sure he meant to say that Christopher Plummer portrayed the character of General Chang in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country.

I could really relate to this

I could really relate to this episode. I moved to Sweden almost three years ago to live with my fiancee and had absolutely zero knowledge with the language. My fiancee was and still is a student and was working hard with his own studies. I thought it would be unfair to put pressure on him when it came to learning the language. So I went to two years of intensive Swedish classes that they provide for immigrants. Immersion works wonderfully.

But almost everyone in Sweden also speaks English, which allowed me to switch whenever I wanted if they couldn't understand me in the beginning. This was a crutch and I believe that I would have learned Swedish faster if I had been forced to study a bit harder because no one would understand me unless I learned the language. But I switched to Swedish books, shows, and most of all I try very hard to speak only Swedish to my fiancee and my friends. It is a pain most days and it is very hard, even after nearly three years I still feel like a child trying to get a point across some days. But I can speak conversationally now with only now and then help and translation. I can read the newspaper and books, as well as understand conversation and television.

Comprehension goes faster and speaking takes a lot more time and thats where speaking the language at home in only Swedish (or whatever language you're learning) is necessary.

I really encourage getting classes because most people don't study unless they have deadlines. It helped for me to know that hey, I need to learn this language to get a job, go to University, and basically live a comfortable life in Sweden. I can imagine its harder to stay motivated when its not necessary for work or school.

By the way, the alphabet may be have the same letters but I'm positive that those letters are pronounced differently. I would sit on the couch chanting the Swedish alphabet (or singing, as the language is very musical and it helps to sing to get it right at first) and yes, I watched children programs! Be prepared to want to beat pillows or smash your head against a wall or table in frustration at times.

You have to learn how to pronounce their letters if you're going to be able to speak in their language correctly. Starting at the beginning can be somewhat demoralizing, especially if you're trudging through children books and tv programs, but hey: I was able to experience the stories of Astrid Lindgren again in it's mother language. Not so bad, right? Nope.

Work hard and never surrender!

BTW! Love the show Judge Hodgeman! My fiancee has threatened to write in to this show many times if I keep switching back to English, haha! Maybe he should have.