Category Archives: Bilingual Experiences

Multilingualism is like los manglares de Ecuador.


The mangrove forests are found in tropical places all around the world. One of the places they are found is in and around the surrounding areas of Guayaquil, Ecuador. According to World Wildlife:

“The world’s mangrove forests have been described as one of the most distinctive emersed tropical ecological systems on the planet (Fundación Natura 1995). The mangrove forests located in the province of Manabí (Ecuador) are small regions of coastal forest that shelter great biodiversity and play important ecological roles. Nonetheless, these ecosystems have suffered serious habitat changes and are critically endangered.”

When I first saw los manglares I was taken aback by their physical characteristics because unlike most trees the manglares (or mangroves), typically found in swamps, have their roots above ground. The roots form a dense network and to the naked eye it can look like there is no beginning and no end. If you try and follow where one root goes it will be impossible to see where it ends. Instead what you will see is one root after another kind of like a spider web. What I found fascinating about the manglares is that if you were to fly over them they appear to be traditional trees. From a birds eye perspective all you would see are the leaves and below would be what you imagine a “typical” tree look like. We lived across the street from a mangrove for a year and a half in Guayaquil’s prominent peninsula, Samborondon. During that year and a half I was writing my dissertation (still am!) and thinking about the way people use language. I would think about my dissertation (all the time) while cooking dinner, while bathing my daughters, at the park, in the shower, and at our weekly visit to El Parque Historico in Samborondon. The park had various attractions. It had a bridge that led visitors across the park to see tropical birds, spider monkeys, alligators, and even a children’s park. Along the way we would be constantly in conversation with one another about the animals, commenting on their behavior (or lack thereof). Many times the trail would be crowded with visitors depending on the day of the week. My favorite part was towards the end where the manglares were because just before that last section visitors had the option of exiting the trail. Many visitors chose to exit the trail because the section where the mangroves are located did not include animals to observe and comment on, there were simply trees. I loved that part of our walk because it was quiet. The mangroves offered a simple form of serenity. Each time I went by that section I admired the ways their roots intertwined for what seemed like forever. It was peaceful. And it was in that part of the trail where even for a brief moment I would think about my dissertation. It was where the manglares were located that I had an epiphany about bilingualism. It occurred to me that the mangroves or manglares are an ideal picture of how language works. On the outside languages can all look the same, in terms of structure and use, some may even say that most languages share the same roots (and many do!). For years researchers have been talking about language use in school settings in a binary fashion. As in students and teachers should use one language at a time, BUT in reality the ways bilinguals (students and teachers alike) use language is similar to the way los manglares de Ecuador interact with nature and quite frankly survive. Our linguistic resources are always in contact with one another. There is no beginning and there is no end with the way we use two or more languages. And what is more fascinating (to me!) is that this kind of dynamic bilingualism is only found in certain parts of the world. Like the mangroves, the climate, or context, in which individuals constantly draw from various linguistic resources simultaneously depends on (language) contact with other natural resources. For the mangroves this includes a swamp, for bilingualism it includes language contact. This analogy is a work in progress…..

I am Bilingual or Translanguaging Practices


If you speak to me in Spanish and I respond in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I start a sentence in Spanish and finish it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I can’t remember a word in Spanish, but remember it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If you say you like my accent in Spanish, but not my accent in English it’s not because I don’t speak English well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

Translating the sense of “orderliness” in another country….


After several months of living in Guayaquil, specifically Samborondon, I have finally reached a point where I can see their sense of orderliness. It happened when I was driving down, like I do everyday, the infamous peninsula strip in Samborondon. Driving in this upper-class suburb is nothing compared to the intensity and vibration Guayaquil, the nation’s largest city, across the bridge from Samborondon offers, but, still…this is MY reality. As I was saying, I was driving back from dropping off my daughter at school and I started to see how traffic really does flow. Yea, I can “cut” people off here, honk to communicate more frequently than in the U.S., and it’s, for the most part, okay. I started to see the role traffic cops play in keeping the street moving (some would argue otherwise), how pedestrians knew when to cross the street despite the lack of a cross walk, and how everything and everyone, including myself, seemed to flow in sync. It was a pivotal point in my time here because it meant that I had assimilated or gotten used to how things work here. In fact, the first time I drove here I remember spitting out every single cuss word I knew (in English and Spanish!) and feeling a sense of bewilderment when I analyzed how in the world I was going to get through the crazy traffic congestion that presented itself in front me. All in all, if I could offer any advice to future or current drivers in Guayaquil, I would say, “Worry about what lies ahead and let those behind you figure out the rest.”

My Book Review about Translanguaging


If you are interested in a summary about what Translanguaging is, how it manifests in bilingual speech, and a little about how teachers can empower students through the use of 2 or more languages, click on the link below.

Language use, accents, and stereotypes.


In Anjelah Johnson’s “Nail Salon” comedy act, which aired on the Comedy Time network in 2007, there is a deliberate use of marked language or speech markers by a speaker from outside the group in question. In fact, mocking speakers from outside her ethnic and racial group is a common theme in many of her acts. In the act, “Nail Salon” she is, in my opinion, attracting anyone that has ever frequented a nail salon where the majority of the employees were Asian. The sociolinguistic variables this paper will focus on include: the stereotypes towards Asian speech, attitudes towards code switching, and how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Johnson demonstrates a common stereotype towards Asian speech, specifically Vietnamese female manicurist speech. Having grown up in Southern California, where a large Vietnamese community resides, and also where Johnson is from; I could completely relate to her comedy act. According to Ronald Wardhaugh, “To say of a member of such a group that he or she will always exhibit a certain characteristic behavior is to offer a stereotype (p.120).” Johnson reinforces the female Asian manicurist stereotype through her use of speech markers, which include, “…social categories of sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation [which are] clearly marked on the basis of speech (p.121).” Whether or not the video attracts or repels members of targeted group, Vietnamese female manicurists or people of Vietnamese origin, is questionable. According to YouTube’s statistical information about who is viewing this specific video it is evident that the group most attracted to Johnson’s act are women between the ages of 13-54 years old.
By deliberately using the speech of a working class, Vietnamese female, in the particular context of a nail salon and as a speaker from outside the group in question Johnson is sending several messages about attitudes towards Asians in general. In particular, she is sending a message about the way Asian speakers code-switch and the attitudes associated with it when it occurs in a nail salon. Wardhaugh describes code switching as having two distinct purposes: situational and metaphorical. “Situational code-switching occurs when the languages used change according to the situations in which the conversants find themselves; they speak one language in one situation and another in a different one (p.104).”
In the case of the “Nail Salon” comedy act, Johnson exemplifies the use of metaphorical code switching. According to Wardhaugh metaphorical code-switching occurs as, “…a change of topic [which] requires a change in the language used…it has an affective dimension to it: you change the code as you redefine the situation- formal to informal, official to personal, serious to humorous, and politeness to solidarity…to show how speakers employ particular languages to convey information that goes beyond their actual words, especially to define social situations (p.104).” The particular instance where Johnson demonstrates metaphorically code-switching is when she criticizes the manicurists’ work on one of her nails. The manicurist, after some debate as to whether or not Johnson’s nail was actually flawed, decides to fix the nail, and instantly begins to code-switch with another employee. It is implied that Johnson is left wondering what Tammy, the manicurist, could possibly be saying to her fellow employee. In the middle of speaking Vietnamese, almost to cover up what was really being said, Tammy says in her heavily accented English that her fellow manicurist thinks Johnson is pretty. She was, according to Wardhaugh’s definition of metaphorical code switching, using Vietnamese and English “…to convey information that goes beyond her actual words (p.104).” In other words, Johnson does a great job of showing us how quickly the manicurist went from being “all about customer service” to extremely annoyed when Johnson critiques her work and doesn’t, for the first time in the act, give in to the manicurists requests or suggestions. This leads to the final sociolinguistic variable: how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Earlier I mentioned the use of speech markers as a variable. According to Wardhaugh’s description of speech communities it is, “…through speech markers [as] functionally important social categorizations [that can be] discriminated…For humans, speech markers have clear parallels…it is evident that [these] social categories of…sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation can be clearly marked on the basis of speech… (p.121).” In the comedy act, “Nail Salon” the “female Vietnamese manicurist” is obviously from a certain social class: she is an immigrant serving American standard English-speaking individuals.
The last variable, how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways, is in my opinion a mode of survival for the manicurist. At the beginning of the act Johnson mentions how the women at the salon are all about customer service. In fact, Johnson demonstrates how good they are at getting you to purchase more services repeatedly throughout the act. The manicurist has learned how to use language in socially meaningful ways. She is constantly complimenting the customer and acting very interested in her life, which is important because Asians are known to be very modest people who don’t like to bring attentions to themselves or others, but in this act Johnson demonstrates how the Asian manicurist has learned that Americans favor an individualistic perspective and the manicurist taps into that knowledge in order to get Johnson to buy more services. In other words, there is more than one stereotype being displayed.
As a Mexican-American and Native American comedian Anjelah Johnson falls under the category of being a speaker from outside the Vietnamese community. It is interesting to note whether or not the targeted group would actually repel or be attracted to Johnson’s comedy act of “Nail Salon.” After reviewing comments the video received on YouTube I could only identify one that may have been from an Asian person given his/her name, SgtTsuki’s. He/she stated, “Gahh!! It’s so wrong to laugh and feel offended at the same time!!” I am still left wondering if people who belong to the Asian community would feel offended. Maybe some members would, such as those who speak with an Asian accent, but others who are American-born and do not speak with an Asian accent may not.

Written in 2010—in rough draft form, but worth the share.


My Toddler’s Bilingual Development


I have been recording (mostly on Facebook) my daughters’ bilingual development. The following conversation took place when she was 1 year and 11 months old.

Me: Sabrina, ven a comer los frijoles.
Sabrina: No, jole!
Me: Ven aquí.
Sabrina: No ven
Me: Si
Sabrina No, si!

As you can see  her words are “fragmented” and she echoed what I was saying, yet all in Spanish. It has been an amazing journey that not a single person could have described to me prior to deciding to raise my daughter with 2 (at least) languages. I have seen her change from a predominately Spanish speaker at 2 and a 1/2 years old to having a strong command of English within 6 months of being immersed in an English daycare. Today, at 4 years old, it can be difficult to tell which of the 2 languages she speaks “better.” Just the other day the following conversation took place between her and a new friend:

New Friend: Sabrina, por que hablas ingles?
Sabrina: En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!
Me: That’s right, honey. You are bilingual and your friend is becoming bilingual just like you!

In fact, one could argue, based on that single sentence she uttered above, that she has a strong command of both languages because she managed to code-switch while maintaining the grammatical structure of both languages!

When it comes to raising a bilingual child it seems like, as I have said before, there are many trials, joys, and tribulations. Having moved to Ecuador recently we switched to speaking English with Sabrina for the first time in her life! She refused to speak to us in English for about 2 months UNTIL she came home from her first day at a Spanish school. The teachers and classmates were so impressed with her American English that she, what I assume, felt proud. Since that day she speaks mostly in English to us. It was a complete shock to me to see how drastically she switched all due to what her peers thought. Now, as I mentioned, my biggest concern is asking her to switch back to Spanish IF we ever decide to move back to the U.S.

Have your children successfully switched back to the original language you had spoken after moving back to a country of origin?








Bilingualism in Ecuador


Bilingualism is highly valued in Ecuador. There is no doubt about that. That being said, I have been trying to understand how Spanish and English work here.  All of the private schools I have visited promote becoming bilingual. The public schools, from what I have heard, also promote bilingualism, but at a completely different level. Here’s the interesting observation I have made. Rarely, if ever, do I hear locals speaking English. In fact, I sense a level of discomfort interacting in English. It’s as if English is a tool with a certain purpose. The purpose being several ones: travel, business, or to speak with someone from another country.

There is something about Spanish and English that definitely stands out. People here code-switch or it could be a form of language mixing (which I can explain in another post). For example, I was speaking to another parent about sleep training her children when she said, “No fue facil. Tenia los dos mellizas durmiendo en el mismo cuarto o como dicen los gringos, ‘it wasn’t a piece of cake.”

There is English everywhere we go. You will see it as the name of business, like Sweet & Coffee. Though I think it should read: Sweets & Coffee. Which leads me to my next observation. Sometimes the translations are off like a store in the mall advertising: joyas de boda. In English they wrote, marge jewelry. Huge mistake.

All in all, our experience as a bilingual family in Ecuador has been amazing. I look forward to sharing more about those experiences in future posts as well. Our daughter has certainly improved how to associate people with language. She switches between Spanish and English almost flawlessly. I think we are on track in raising a prolific code switcher and someone who is proud to know more than one language. Just the other day she said, “En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!”