People who speak more than one language

Two Saturday mornings per month,

My small boy goes to

Finnish class.

During the class,

We parents hang out in a room next door:

A brick-and-tile space with a

Circle of mismatched chair and couches and a

Scrap of coffee-colored carpet on the floor.

We sip hot morning beverages and chat or read magazines and books.

Last Saturday,

I was cutting out


For our wedding invitations,

And vaguely listening to three moms

Finnish women living in Minnesota—

Chatting in low tones.

At first they spoke Finnish,

And for practice I tried to follow along.

One of their parents had a sailboat,

And spent the summer

Sailing around the archipelago islands

Scattered off the southwest corner of Finland.

One of them said a phrase in English,

Slowing down and emphasizing the words slightly like

Verbal italics,

And then the conversation


Switched into English.

Two of the women had mild accents,

And the third spoke with no accent at all.

They carried on in English for awhile,

Talking about their next travel plans

To bring their children to Finland,

To their families’ summer cottages.

And then,

Again spontaneously,

One of the women switched back into Finnish,

And the conversation went on in that language.

I know,

From my bi-lingual friends,

That people who speak




Flow back and forth between languages

In the same conversation

Sometimes in the same sentence


Without even realizing they’re doing it.

If I had pointed out to these

Three women that they had switched back and forth

Between Finnish and English,

They might have been surprised to hear it.

I am always awed by the

Vast potential of the human mind

When I witness this.

And the coolest part:

My son can do it, too.


1 thought on “People who speak more than one language

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