My grandmother spoke only Norwegian until she was eight years old. But starting around age eight, like a lot of second-generation Americans from immigrant homes, she switched to English. I remember her teaching us maybe a couple words – and I, like my dad, only remember her speaking it occasionally around Sophie Swenson, another Norwegian woman in the neighborhood.
They were in America. They learned English.
Later, of course, when I started learning Norwegian, I learned Grandma’s dialect, from Sør-Trøndelag, in the hill country near the Swedish border, was pretty much the Appalachians of Norway, and I may have dodged a linguistic and cultural bullet. Nonetheless, I grew up feeling just a skosh deprived – and that was one of the reasons I had for taking seven years of German between secondary and college – I figured in the back of my head it’d help me learn Norwegian one day 
I won’t say Grandma marinaded us in the old country’s culture, even without the language; life back in Tydal had been pretty rough. My great-grandfather, Ole Berndson, had two sons and two daughters, and all but the youngest son left Norway in their twenties and early thirties, bespeaking a pretty rough time of things in the 1880s. Grandma told stories of people living on tree bark soup when things got hairy, and that wasn’t unusual. Ole got his farm foreclosed not long after (by the anscestor of someone I’ve met online, and plan to visit one day when I do finally get there, God willing), leaving his son Bersvend to have to adapt, making a fortune as a lumberman. Here, all three married – my two great-great aunts to North Dakota farmers, and my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother up near Thief River Falls.
My Dad and I put most of this together ourselves – Grandma died in 1980, before either of us took on a huge interest in geneology. But she left enough hints so that we were able to get at least the broad outlines.
But I learned my cultural heritage – the parts that matter, anyway. Because I’m American.
And I’m thankful that I leanred it, rather than having it taught to me by a government bureaucrat.
Now, I’m not saying that to wallow in nostalgia, or to claim the old way is always the best.
But while I can’t speak for parents in a culture I neither much know nor understand, I’d have to think a Somali parent who actually cares about the place he moved to must be getting a little dismayed by this story:
There is a new effort underway at Minneapolis Public Schools to make sure Somali students know and understand their language and culture.
“There’s no shame in being bilingual,” said Deqa Muhidin, the MPS district program facilitator. “It’s an asset and we want them to celebrate that.”
Minneapolis does a noxious, toxic, rotten to the bone job of teaching kids the history and meaning of our own culture. Why the hell would any parent want that same pack of dullards teaching their kids – any kids – about their own?
 I was about one-third right. German and Norwegian share a little vocabulary, but almost no grammar, syntax and structure. As it happens, Norwegian is a little like speaking English, only with different words for just about everything. And a bizarre structure for definite articles just to make it interesting.