I come from a monolingual household but I was happy to be told about the language skills that some of my ancestors had.

Firstly, my great-great-great grandfather, Alexander Findlater (1847-1915) Alexander Findlater was known to speak several languages. We don’t know for certain which ones but we know he spent some time living in Romania just before WWI so perhaps Romanian is one of them. He was in the Royal Navy for about 12 years and he travelled to many countries within Europe and worked with crew from other countries so perhaps he learned languages that way. We know he spent a lot of time in Mediterranean countries in the 1880s and visited many places that I visit for my own holidays today. The countries he visited included Spain, France, Malta, Cyprus, Norway, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Ireland, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

Juozas or Pranciskus Laukaitis 1938 cycled from UK to France to meet great uncle
The brother of my Lithuanian great-grandmother who cycled from Scotland to Lithuania in 1938. This was taken just before his trip.

My grandfather’s mother was born in Scotland to Lithuanian parents. Lithuania belonged to Russia at the time and just before WWI, several thousand Lithuanian and Polish miners were recruited for jobs in Scotland by the Merry Cunningham Mining Company. They lived mainly in Lanarkshire but some were in other parts of Scotland too. My great-grandmother was brought up speaking Lithuanian and she taught it to my grandfather but unfortunately it did not pass down any further to me. I have learned a small amount of Lithuanian and used it when travelling to the country. It’s a language I will learn more of when I have more time.

On the other side of the family, my great-grandfather, Francis Hanawen (1886-1959) was born to Irish speaking parents. He also spoke the language and he taught the language at evening classes to adults. He also helped monolingual Irish immigrants when they first arrived in Scotland.

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My great-grandfather, an Irish speaker
Five_Generation_Picture (2)
Photo taken around 1914 of generations of my ancestors. The two older ladies were Irish speakers.

His son (my great-uncle) is now aged 98 and writes to me regularly and he is happy to hear all about my languages. He remembers his grandparents speaking Irish to each other when he was little. In fact, my great-uncle worked in Egypt just after WW2 and learned to speak fluent Arabic, although he couldn’t read it. He bought a small phrasebook which he has now passed on to me and it’s funny to read the old-fashioned phrases such as “Boy! Help me mount this horse”. My great-uncle thinks he has forgotten all of his Arabic but I’m sure he would remember it if he listened to a native speaker again.

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