The Ignorance of a Child This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

   It was an ordinary day as my friends and I discussed ourhectic seventh-grade lives at the lunch table, when a girl learned I spokeFrench.

"Caroline, say something in French," sheasked.

"Why?" I asked, blushing.

"Come on. Just saysomething. Don't be shy."

"I don't like to speak French in frontof people."

"You're crazy. You're lucky you can speak twolanguages. I wish I could do that."

"It's not thatgreat."

Until the age of 15, that was my response to people'sfascination with my speaking French. Throughout my childhood, I never realizedhow fortunate I was to understand the French culture and speak its language.Instead, I was ashamed. I dreaded anyone finding out I spoke a language otherthan English. Although the reason for my shame changed as I matured, it did notdisappear until the summer before my sophomore year, when I was forced to visitmy family in France. I despised the idea of going, but by August I did not wantto return home.

As an elementary student I shunned my mother's culturebecause I did not want to be different from the other children. Although Frenchis my first language, I avoided using it. School had been difficult when I onlyknew how to speak French, and my peers teased me, which led me to believe beingdifferent was not something to be proud of. I was afraid people would continue totease me, so I rejected the idea of being French and loathed the French culture.I didn't want anything to do with it, rebelling whenever possible in hopes ofbeing normal. I never once spoke to my peers about my unusual upbringing orinvited them to my house, fearing they would not be my friend if they knew mysecret.

In middle school, my fear of being different was replaced withwanting to be a "true American." I thought knowing another languagewould never be anything but a hindrance. I was embarrassed that my mother had aheavy accent and difficulty understanding English. I dreaded going to thesupermarket with her because when asked if she wanted paper or plastic, she hadtrouble responding. My mother adamantly requested that I speak French, but I didnot want anything to do with France or its culture; I was an American. I thoughtdenying my heritage would somehow make my shame disappear.

This allchanged when I helped a lost American couple in Paris. Strolling through thecobblestone streets with my cousin, I heard someone speaking English. Curious, Iturned to see a couple studying a map. Their eyes opened with relief when theyrealized I spoke English and I felt a sense of pride. That was when I realized Iam neither French nor American, but both. I am different, but fortunate. The factthat I am familiar with both cultures and a citizen of both countries allows meto experience the best of both lives. Being bilingual creates opportunities forme in all aspects of life.

I was afraid that being different meant Iwould be rejected, but being different means I am unique. Knowing two languagescreates more chances to succeed. If we were all the same, life would be dull andboring. Diversity is fascinating.

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This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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