25 Tips from Mark Twain for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

May 31, 2013

Quincy, Illinois and Hannibal, Missouri

I grew up in the small city of Quincy, Illinois, which sits on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. And just downstream from Quincy, across a big steel bridge, is the cozy town of Hannibal, Missouri, the place where Mark Twain (1835-1910) spent his boyhood.

Mark TwainMark Twain, of course, is the great writer of such classics as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He has long been a hero of mine for his spirited writing and wicked wit, and I have many fond memories of prowling the places in Hannibal that became the inspiration for settings in his famous books.

In fact, during our upcoming trip to the U.S., I plan to take my kids to Hannibal and show them such sights as the cave where the young Samuel Clemens (who later took the pen name “Mark Twain”) romped as a boy and which came to play a prominent role in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (Tom and Becky get lost in the cave, and the killer Injun Joe…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it yet!)

I thought this would be a fitting time, then, to offer a few wise words from Twain himself that might speak to parents of bilingual kids.

1. Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

2. The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

3. The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

4. In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them. (See How Many Books Do You Have In Your Home?)

5. A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

6. I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

7. Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

8. Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.

9. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

10. Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

11. Ignorant people think it is the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it is the sickening grammar that they use.

12. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

13. Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful day of your life.

14. The ability to find solutions to life’s challenges is what makes us grow as a person.

15. Why not go out on a limb? That’s where all the fruit is.

16. I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.

17. The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.

18. When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

19. When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

20. Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.

21. Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

22. Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?

23. There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.

24. I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

25. Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

How about you? What do you think of Twain’s advice? (And would you like coffee or tea with your frog?)

1 Jana June 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Great way to start my sunny Saturday, thanks!


2 Adam June 1, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Jana, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Have a great weekend!


3 Jana June 2, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Sunday morning, I’ve read them all again! I particularly like no. 10 and 16. Feel like doing a 16 to a commenter on my blog at the moment 😀


4 Adam June 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Yes, #16… I think there are times we can all empathize with this tip!


5 Petra June 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm

The best tips ever! I’m definitely pulling out my old Tom Sawyer and spending the rest of the cold afternoon in bed! I’m just not sure whether I’m happy or sad that it isn’t in English.
Have a great trip!


6 Adam June 2, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Petra, thanks for the kind comment! Since making this post, I’ve had the urge to reread Tom Sawyer, too!


7 Alisa June 5, 2013 at 1:25 am

I didn’t realize we were practically neighbors! I’m from St Louis. :) I hope you & your family have a wonderful trip.


8 Adam June 5, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Thanks, Alisa. Actually, I’m writing this reply from Memphis, Tennessee (where my mother lives), and next week we’ll be driving north—and right past St. Louis—to see my father in my hometown of Quincy, Illinois. :mrgreen:


9 Amanda @Miss Panda Chinese April 15, 2014 at 11:08 am

Love this! What a great read to start a fantastic week! I will be reading Tom Sawyer in Chinese to the kids soon. Have a wonderful day, Adam!


10 Adam April 15, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Thank you, Amanda! I’m glad you enjoyed this post—and I hope your kids enjoy Tom Sawyer!


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