Login/Sign up

World Association of International Studies

Post Immersed in Two New Languages at Once: Montreal, 1947
Created by John Eipper on 03/22/21 2:49 AM

Previous posts in this discussion:


Immersed in Two New Languages at Once: Montreal, 1947 (Leo Goldberger, USA, 03/22/21 2:49 am)

In response to John's question about my knowledge of English (or French, spoken by some 70% in Montreal at the time) when I arrived there as a 17-year old immigrant from Denmark, I can simply say it was quite poor--though the Danish school system had required courses in English and German quite early in the primary grades as well as in the 3 years of "middle school" (with the addition of Swedish in the 6th or 7th grades). Finally in the optional 4-year Gymnasium, we had Latin, Greek or French as a chosen specialty or the Sciences for the 4-year Gymnasium Final Exam (for students planning to enter the University). I chose the science sequence, as ironically, language was not my forte!

However, the sort of "school English" I could muster was actually quite limited in terms of practical usage on this side of the Atlantic. Our Danish teachers were mostly Oxford English trained, and Shakespeare and other such literary greats afforded less than practical readings.

Coming to America and asking a stranger for the nearest WC was futile, if not an uncomfortable challenge. How would I have known it was called "a John"? And, further as an illustration of the idiomatic barrier between languages, my experience on my first "date" serves as a humorous example: my "date" (by the way, a term I only learned on this side of the Atlantic) to my bewilderment kept using the phrase as we chatted: "You are pulling my leg." And, of course, I had no idea what she was referring to. Simple descriptive concepts, such as a "Subway," were beyond my ken. And then there was a memorable experience I had in a restaurant: it offered a "special", namely a "Turkey Dinner!"--which turned out to have nothing Turkish about it--and as I recall, we didn't even raise turkeys in Denmark, not in my time at least. Embarrassing, to say the least.

In any case, my father's friend, Victor Borge, who had himself undergone a similar experience when he arrived to America in 1940, advised me on my arrival to go see several American movies a week and to always carry a pocket-size Danish Dictionary. He had also encountered some humorous incidents, which became part of his act. For example, when someone asked him "Do you understand?", he would look up at the ceiling replying: "standing under what?"

Living in Montreal in my initial five years at McGill University, it became quite clear that one spoke either English or French. There was an inherent discrimination in Quebec province at the time. I hardly ever encountered a French-Canadian--except a streetcar conductor or policeman, but never a McGill student. The French-Canadians had their own schools and universities.

While I was grateful for my basic introduction to English--including the automatic Canadian "eh" after quite a few sentences--I was not much in favor of the obvious sense of discrimination against the French-Canadians, not just between the English and the French-Canadians, but against us Jews as well. At least in my years at McGill, I was not welcome in any fraternities, a sort of segregation, which as a Jewish Dane I was quite unfamiliar with. Neither in Denmark nor in Sweden--where I ended up spending some 2 years as a refugee from the German occupation during the roundup in 1943--was I a victim of such irrational encounters. And in my long-term tenure at New York University I was a always among friends...

Thanks as ever for your kind interest!

JE comments:  Leo, I am intrigued by your experiences.  History, language, the mixing of different cultures, and personal anecdote are ingredients for the perfect WAIS post!  If I calculate correctly, before the age of 20 you had mastered five languages--Danish, Swedish, German, English, and French.  Did you learn any Hungarian from your mother?  I stand (not understand) in awe.

I've pestered you sufficiently for the present, but when time permits, please tell us more about the legend, Victor Borge.  Did you see him often when you settled later in New York?  I just refreshed my memory of the "Clown Prince of Denmark," and Wikipedia tells us that during the Nazi occupation, Borge (1909-2000) returned to his homeland disguised as a sailor to visit his dying mother.  That took real chutzpah.


Rate this post
Informational value 
Reader Ratings (0)
Informational value0%

Visits: 421


Please login/register to reply or comment: Login/Sign up

Trending Now

All Forums with Published Content (44270 posts)

- Unassigned

Culture & Language

American Indians Art Awards Bestiary of Insults Books Conspiracy Theories Culture Ethics Film Food Futurology Gender Issues Humor Intellectuals Jews Language Literature Media Coverage Movies Music Newspapers Numismatics Philosophy Plagiarism Prisons Racial Issues Sports Tattoos Western Civilization World Communications


Capitalism Economics International Finance World Bank World Economy


Education Hoover Institution Journal Publications Libraries Universities World Bibliography Series


Biographies Conspiracies Crime Decline of West German Holocaust Historical Figures History Holocausts Individuals Japanese Holocaust Leaders Learning Biographies Learning History Russian Holocaust Turkish Holocaust


Afghanistan Africa Albania Algeria Argentina Asia Australia Austria Bangladesh Belgium Belize Bolivia Brazil Canada Central America Chechnya Chile China Colombia Costa Rica Croatia Cuba Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark East Europe East Timor Ecuador Egypt El Salvador England Estonia Ethiopia Europe European Union Finland France French Guiana Germany Greece Guatemala Haiti Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran (Persia) Iraq Ireland Israel/Palestine Italy Japan Jordan Kenya Korea Kosovo Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Latin America Liberia Libya Mali Mexico Middle East Mongolia Morocco Namibia Nations Compared Netherlands New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria North America Norway Pacific Islands Pakistan Palestine Paraguay Peru Philippines Poland Polombia Portugal Romania Saudi Arabia Scandinavia Scotland Serbia Singapore Slovakia South Africa South America Southeast Asia Spain Sudan Sweden Switzerland Syria Thailand The Pacific Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan UK (United Kingdom) Ukraine USA (America) USSR/Russia Uzbekistan Venezuela Vietnam West Europe Yemen Yugoslavia Zaire


Balkanization Communism Constitutions Democracy Dictators Diplomacy Floism Global Issues Hegemony Homeland Security Human Rights Immigration International Events Law Nationalism NATO Organizations Peace Politics Terrorism United Nations US Elections 2008 US Elections 2012 US Elections 2016 US Elections 2020 Violence War War Crimes Within the US


Christianity Hinduism Islam Judaism Liberation Theology Religion

Science & Technology

Alcohol Anthropology Automotives Biological Weapons Design and Architecture Drugs Energy Environment Internet Landmines Mathematics Medicine Natural Disasters Psychology Recycling Research Science and Humanities Sexuality Space Technology World Wide Web (Internet)


Geography Maps Tourism Transportation


1-TRIBUTES TO PROFESSOR HILTON 2001 Conference on Globalizations Academic WAR Forums Ask WAIS Experts Benefactors Chairman General News Member Information Member Nomination PAIS Research News Ronald Hilton Quotes Seasonal Messages Tributes to Prof. Hilton Varia Various Topics WAIS WAIS 2006 Conference WAIS Board Members WAIS History WAIS Interviews WAIS NEWS waisworld.org launch WAR Forums on Media & Research Who's Who