English as a Second Language

English is not my first language.

I love to tell people that for two reasons: it’s absolutely true, and most would never guess.

Naturally, there’s a story.

My parents immigrated from The Netherlands to Canada before I was born. When I showed up in 1957 they’d been in the country for only five years. While they had presumably learned enough English to get by, the fact was they still spoke Dutch in the home.

As a result, for the first three years of my life, so did I. Dutch is, in fact, my first language.

At the time we were renting a cottage from and living next door to a lady who’d come from England, herself. “Auntie Betty”, as she was known to me, would become a lifelong friend of my parents.

She observed my situation and decided that this would not do. She proceeded to teach me English.

Being from England, of course, what she taught me was the Queen’s English, or “proper” English as those from England might refer to it.

That was all well and good until I arrived in the United States, or more specifically, until I attended school in the United States. Apparently my use of language (and perhaps even a mild accent) was considered “different”. As children do, I was mocked and quickly learned what I guess I’d call my third language: American English. The languages I now use daily.

I don’t think it was really part of any grand plan, but I’m actually quite grateful that I’m technically bi-lingual. I say “technically”, since my last trip to Holland served to prove to me how rusty my Dutch had become. They say that learning two languages early in life makes learning additional languages easier later.

Perhaps it’s one reason that all these computer programming languages have become such an important part of my life. Yes, spoken or inter-personal language is different than a computer programming language, but I’m convinced that there remain concepts, and a flexibility of thinking, that apply to both.

Either way I’m grateful that English is my second (or third) language, and I’m quite grateful for an English neighbor woman who helped make it so.