These parents are trying to raise their kids in an English-free home
This segment originally aired on May 16, 2021.
A couple in Ontario are trying to raise their kids in an English-free home.
Emmaline Beauchamp (Mshkogaabwid Kwe) and her husband Monty McGahey (Ozaawaa Giizhigo Ginew) are aiming to speak to their children exclusively in Anishinaabemowin, to ensure they carry the sounds of their ancestors.
"I just feel like it's the most beautiful gift you can ever give somebody," said Beauchamp about raising their two toddlers in Anishinaabemowin. "It's a language that is alive. It's a spirit in itself."
But it's been challenging, especially given that neither parent was raised in the language.
Despite belonging to Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba, Beauchamp grew up in Halifax, where her parents and Mi'kmaq nanny spoke to her in English. As a young adult, she studied Spanish and German while traveling through Europe. At 20, she moved to Vienna and was working as an au pair for a German-speaking family when she felt a deep longing to learn about her own culture.
"The best way I can describe it is," Beauchamp said, "it felt like someone was holding Silly Putty from here and I was all the way over in Austria. I could just feel like that tiny, tiny little strand was still there. And I needed to go back and kindle that fire."
Beauchamp returned to Turtle Island and that fire quickly grew. She fell in love — twice. First, while studying the language at Georgian College, and then with McGahey, one of her teachers.
They began to grow an immersive world together — getting a home, where they challenged each other to only speak Anishinaabemowin, and a dog they named Bzaanaagmisin, meaning calm waters.
"He was our guinea pig," Beauchamp said. He helped them test out how it felt to call out Anishinaabemowin words in public.
"Of course, first comes the dog, then comes the baby!" Beauchamp laughed.
She'd hoped to be fluent by the time they had children, but their daughter, now three, came earlier than expected. Beauchamp realized she'd have to learn alongside her little one.
Today, they have two toddlers, Bzaanaagmisin, and a podcast they launched in April called Enweying - Our Sound. On it, the husband and wife make each other laugh as they share their experience trying to stick to Anishinaabemowin with their family.
Their main message to listeners is that language fluency won't come from a once-a-week class. If that's all you do, "you'll be waiting a long time," McGahey said in a recent episode. Instead, proficiency is built over time, through small daily actions.
As their daughter makes new discoveries in the world, the couple learn new vocabulary along with her. They add sticky notes with the new words on mirrors and appliances, and try to bring the sounds into frequent use.
To her frustration, the pandemic has thwarted their goals for an entirely English-free home, Beauchamp said. Their kids experience virtual Zoom calls with friends and relatives, and overhear their parents working remotely with English-speaking colleagues. To reduce their exposure to English in the house, their toys are switched to Spanish, household devices often speak in French or German, and Disney movies are turned to a foreign language.
"There's times I just want to give up," Beauchamp said about spending the past four years challenging her brain to find the words to express herself at any given moment, and not revert to English, especially in front of her kids.
But her daughter is beginning to describe the world around her in Anishinaabemowin, making "sounds that were always meant to be hers." Witnessing that makes it all worth it for Beauchamp.
"Not only is it like just the most rewarding, special, beautiful sound that could come back to me," Beauchamp said. "But it's healing so many people that have gone before us. And I can feel that from the core of me, from my spirit. Those that walk with us, walk within our bloodlines, and we carry them."
"And when I get to watch my daughter laugh and jump and, you know, say, 'Gnaajiw' ('You are so beautiful') and 'Gizaagin' ('I love you') ... I'm speechless. ... I'm trying to gift her stuff, but she's gifting it right back to so many people that walk with us as a family."