Norman and Bernice Brown: Adjusting to Speaking English at School
Date:Friday, January 1, 1971
ID:Digital audio recording #: 19.71-10
Interviewer: Naomi Katz & Cyril E. Leonoff
CL: Well on the Prairies—Winnipeg, populated by Russian Jews primarily and Eastern European Jews, Yiddish was the language spoken. I have the impression that in Vancouver Hebrew was emphasized. Did you speak Yiddish with your parents?
NB: No, no, no. Until we the children introduced English into the home, we knew no language except Jewish. And one of the things that you and your generation might find a little difficult unless you’ve thought about it seriously is the problems that youngsters who don’t have English have when they go to school. I recall going to school and the second day that I was there they called a roll and as they called the roll each of the children had to say ‘present.’ Well, when they called my name and I wouldn’t say ‘present.’ When the teacher asked me why I wouldn’t tell her and she punished me, and she asked me to stay after school and I told her that the only reason that I wouldn’t say ‘present’ was that I wasn’t going to give her a present because that was the only connotation that I knew present in. [Laughter]. That’s why I think that some of these intelligence tests are so ridiculous. Because connotations is all important.
CL: So you spoke Yiddish in the home and when you started to go to school you learned English.
NB: Then my parents learned as well. And ultimately…
BB: That is always the history. The children learned, came home, wouldn’t speak the Yiddish and so the parents had to learn English.