Me llamo Suzanne

Sometimes the phonetics in one language do not always translate accurately. Simply said, this is the case for the way my family pronouces my name. It’s really quite out of hand, although it has evolved.

My parents have always called me, “Susen” which was fine up until I started to take a hold of my identity or in other words, up until I was old enough to understand language, both Spanish and English. Sort of…

My sisters call me “Susan”, which made sense when I was younger because my parents called me “Susen.” It all got really confusing when I was about 10 years old. I was writing my name at school or maybe at ballet because we always had to sign in before a dance class. As I was writing each letter it dawned me, MY NAME IS SUZANNE, not “Susen” or “Susan.” I marched home that day and told my mom that she had been calling me the wrong name for a very long time. I said, “My name is spelled “Suzanne” not “Susen.” Being the strong-willed mother that she is, she said “I am your mother. I named you. I can say your name however I please.” Case rested.

Ok. Fine, but from that day forward any new friend or person I met I called myself “Suzanne.” So, its worked, people call me “Suzanne.” My sisters will call me Suzanne sometimes sarcastically, but mostly they still call me “Susan.”

As I learned more and more about second language acquisition or more specifically about the phonological system of Spanish I understood why my mother calls me “Susen.” The “Z” in Spanish makes the “S” sound. As far as my mother saying “SusEn,” I think it was her attempt to prnounce it they way she heard it.

So, my name has evolved. I’m even known as “Chuchen” (Ch/ch making the “Shh” sound) because when my youngest sister was barely starting to speak she she would say “Shushen” instead of “Susen.” Today as a bilingual educator to children and adults I use my name in lessons to explain the “Z” sound in English. Students usually giggle at the story I have just shared. Like I mentioned before whenever I am teaching a class I always make sure to eventually talk about how to say personal names in English and Spanish for those individuals who may not be able to pronouce a “foreign” name quite right.

I keep running into the pronunciation block when I travel abroad. Instead of teaching people how to say my name I simply change it to a name with a more international flare, like Susana! That being said,I find it interesting that people decide to call me something else anyways, probably because they know my name is not really Susana. They call me Susi or Sue, both of which really do not suit me. I guess you can say it will be a constant fixture in my life.

My children will definitely have international names!

Code-Switching in the classroom…

A review of Iliana Reyes’ article, “Functions of Code Switching in Schoolchildren’s Conversations.”

My curiosity in reviewing this specific article started with an observation. There are two recent observations actually. The first has been an on-going one, and always in the bilingual classroom. Student’s code-switching (CS), which is normal. The distinct feature in the bilingual classroom is that the teacher is also fervently switching languages! The second was here, in my graduate course titled, “Critical Issues in Bilingual/Bicultural Education,” throughout our discourse people CS, though less frequently than in the bilingual classroom and with the exclusion of Spanglish terms. I was challenged by the notion that fervently CS in the classroom was okay, and in fact a good strategy to utilize in order to, for example, communicate with children who use it as a means to bridge misunderstandings. I decided to read the article, Functions of Code Switching in Schoolchildren’s Conversations by Iliana Reyes because I thought it would be a good place to start to better understand why individuals, specifically children, CS in the first place. The article touched on the most popularly known reasons among bilingual teachers. For instance, students draw from words in either the L1 or L2 if they don’t know the word(s) in one of the languages, to express an emotion, or because it is common practice in their community. I did not expect the article to answer the questions I have about teachers CS in the classroom, but I did expect it to shed some light on how it develops among school aged children. For instance, though the community students live in CS, does the teachers’ use of CS discourage a students’ knowledge of proper use of Spanish or English, or more specifically, does it discourage a student from increasing their academic vocabulary in English or Spanish? Reyes observed 20 pairs of 7 and 10 year olds and concluded that children CS for different reasons. She had these 20 pairs, each child was allowed to choose a grade-level counterpart, work on a science activity. The observers left the room, while the children worked on the activity. Each child had a microphone attached to their waist. Overall the context in which children CS was not one of the determining factors as far as frequency is concerned. In other words, the amount of CS displayed on the playground was about as frequent as the CS they displayed during the assigned science activity.Reyes included a sociolinguist analysis in her study which stated that, “…only code switches that constitute more than one lexical item were included in the analysis.” (pg.83) she went on to explain how, “Many investigators in the field of language CS do not consider single switches, ‘true switches,’ therefore, only those longer switches that clearly indicated a syntactic switch into the other language have been included in the present analysis.” (pgs.83-83) I was enlightened because it clarified that the “CS” done in my graduate class is not actual CS, but I am still concerned about the classroom teachers’ use of CS. They do actually fit into the definition of CS. For instance, Reyes describes CS as two categories: the metaphorical and the situational. She says, “Under the metaphorical category, CS varies according to discourse function (e.g, to include or exclude someone from a conversation, to convey intimacy, or to emphasize a message).” (p.78) The observations I have made seem to indicate that the reasons why children CS are the same reasons why teachers seem to be CS, according to Reyes study there are six reasons why, all of which are evident in the classrooms I have observed throughout the years. The six reasons, which fall under either metaphorical or situational include clarification about the meaning of a words or concept, in order to put emphasis on what they were trying to say, when the topic of conversation shifts, to accommodate the listener, when they were shifting questions, or when the situation (context) shifted. Which begs the question, are teachers who fervently CS actually fully bilingual in English and Spanish? As I took notes about the article and paused to think about what the writer was saying; the whole time I kept remembering what the proponents and opponents for African-American Vernacular English in the classroom would argue. The proponents would state that students need to be taught in the language they know in order for literacy skills to transfer, in addition to feeling comfortable with the way they speak. The opponent’s arguments ranged from the need to acquire Standard English in order to be successful in school, let alone life to realizing that Blacks speak improper English and it should be corrected. So, do CS and Spanglish in the classroom fit into the same category as the teacher’s use of Ebonics in the classroom?The struggle I have with CS sways between adults’ use of it and children’s use of it and what that means in the classroom. Both Genesse and Reyes research interests include, “The nature of language development in…developing bilinguals…,” which, “…must be understood in relation to their development of bilingual communicative competence (Genesse, 2002; Reyes, 2001). Towards the end of Reyes article she states that children develop their ability to CS as they acquire “language.” In other words, as the child gets older they learn to manipulate the six different facets within CS, although in the transcripts, which she included in the article I still wonder how well these children know the proper way to speak English or Spanish. In addition, if teachers refrained from fervently CS, and instead taught one content area in one language and the next in another depending on how they have designed their class to function within the transitional bilingual education model, then maybe students would know to say words, in both English and Spanish with proper use of grammar and articulation. For instance, throughout the transcript students mispronounced the following words or phrases or did not use the appropriate word in Spanish: “…she don’t need to go to summer school”, “…mira mira los magnets”, “..we do not need this no more”, “..asi ira”, and “compass?” Reyes article did enlighten me in terms of how well children learn to CS as they acquire language. The seven year olds used three types of CS more frequently, while the ten year olds used the five different types of CS during their conversations. In other words, the older children CS more than the younger children because they have a firmer grasp of both the L1 and the L2 (see figure 1 on p.88.) Although, I do believe there is value in CS and it certainly is a skill, I am still not convinced that teachers constant CS in the classroom is a good strategy, especially when the way they CS reflects the way children use it. Hmm….do the words Oakland and Ebonics ring bell? Read Iliana Reyes entire article: (copy & paste the following link)

The PhD adventure officially begins!

I paid my tuition bill this past week and was trying not to sweat, cry, or let any of my insecurities about this pursuit over take me because damn the tuition bill was expensive!!! Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, but then I remember that the one thing not a single soul can take away from you is an education. Knowledge is power, it’s true. I observe this everyday.

So, the extensive post below is one of my first assignements due this coming Monday. Class hasn’t even begun and the professor sent a friendly e-mail attaching some readings and an essay that is due Monday.

I don’t know if anyone reads my blog, but to those of you who do I hope you enjoy my mini biography. I haven’t stated this publicly, but I will now. I hope to one day publish a book not just about my research, but about my “interpretations of a bilingual life.”

Enjoy the read and if you so dare, leave me a comment.

Bilingual & Bicultural Education

I didn’t realize I was of Mexican descent until I moved from a majority Latino city in Southern California to a majority white city in Southern California. I grew up in Santa Ana, California where my elementary school was pretty diverse. We had white, Asian, Latino, and Filipino students, although my nuclear family was part of a close-knit Latino community through our Catholic church. My parents were involved with helping “at-risk” youth get through all of their trials and tribulations. They were also involved in grass roots activities, like protesting against negligent apartment owners where many of their “at-risk” youths lived. I can remember one time participating in one of the protests and seeing Jorge Ramos interview some of the grass-roots organizers like my parents. That experience is part of the reason why I decided to read his most recent book called, Lo Que Vi.

My parents immigrated to Brownsville, Texas from Tamaulipas, Mexico in the late sixties. They came here legally, although my maternal grandmother came to work in Texas many times as an illegal immigrant in order to make ends meet. My paternal grandfather brought his family to the U.S. as a bracero worker. My paternal grandmother was born in South Texas, but moved to Mexico without a birth certificate, so when she came back to the States she had to get “papers” proving her citizenship, which ended up being Mexican due to lack of proof that she was born in the U.S.A. My mother was 13 when she immigrated and my father was 16 years old. Four years later they married and by the time my mother was 22 years old she had her third child. I lived in Brownsville until I was two years old and in California until I was 18 years old.

Language gurus state that after a certain age an individual will speak in the language that is considered to be their mother-tongue. This was the case for my parents. In our home they always spoke in Spanish to each other and as the years went by they spoke in Spanish to us less and less. I remember constantly hearing Spanish in my home, from the radio station, television, and friends that would come over. My parents never forced us to speak Spanish, they just always spoke it. To this day my mother speaks to me in her beautiful Spanish, while I speak to her in my “educated English.” As I grew older and realized that I understood two languages; my interest in improving my Spanish also grew.

I was tracked in high-school partially because I probably didn’t do well on standardized assessments and partially because the counselor knew my mother was raising three daughters alone. I guess you can say she knew her statistics. After my father passed away we moved to an “all white” city. I got asked many ignorant questions like, “Where do you tan?” to “Does your mom know any good sewers?” This is one of the ways I realized I was different, other than the fact that the only Latinos I could see in our community were the ones mowing the lawn or cooking food in restaurants.

The only other language experience I had, other than my exposure to Spanish at home, was my two years of high-school Spanish, both if which I passed with an easy “A.” I know my story is very much a cliché as a first generation born and raised in the U.S., but I like to think that it is somewhat unique, at least the years beyond high-school. We moved to Texas, where I started taking classes at a community college. I was forced to take remedial reading and writing. Ok, so maybe the few years after high school are still a little common amongst first generation Chicanos.

At 20 years old I experienced two events that changed the course of my life forever. I traveled outside of the USA for the first time, visiting my maternal grandmothers’ home state of Jalisco and I transferred to a four year university, the same one I am attending for my Ph.D. In Guadalajara I realized that I was American and at UT I realized that I had had a horrible education. I was put on academic probation after my first semester!

In December of 1996 I knew that I had to make a deliberate decision to continue my studies, while at the same acknowledging that I was walking a fine line of being a part of a stupid statistic that apparently was very clear to high school counselor, which ultimately meant dropping out of college and working at a hourly paid job for years on end. The following semester I tested out of all four Spanish classes, required to graduate, which helped my G.P.A., but also made me realize that I know Spanish, not as well as a native speaker, but I knew what sounded correct and what did not. After that strenuous year, I focused on making it through my studies and improving my Spanish by reading anything I could find that was written in Spanish. Since my trip to Guadalajara, Jalisco in 1996 I have traveled every summer to a different Spanish-speaking country in efforts to improve my Spanish. I have spent anywhere from a week to a month and a half each summer in another country. After twelve years of trying to speak Spanish eloquently and without an English accent I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be as fluent or close to fluent as a native speaker until I at least live in a Spanish-speaking country.

After I graduated in 1999 with my Bachelors of Arts degree I sought after several different job opportunities. No one would hire me. I had spent the last five years just trying to stay afloat. All of my time went into studying, all of it. I wasn’t involved in any clubs, nor did I venture abroad to study. I didn’t have the funds nor did I have the time to waste because I was too busy literally studying. As I was applying and sometimes interviewing for positions with different companies, an idea dawned on me. Not only was not being prepared for college detrimental to my “student life”, it was also detrimental to my post-graduation life. No one would hire me because I didn’t have a well rounded college experience nor did I have a degree that would allow me to do a specific job, like accounting.

I realized that the education an individual receives prior to college can have a huge impact on what their life in college and beyond is like. I ended up resorting to what I was doing to help me eat and live while in college, which was dental assisting and the pay sucked! In 2002 I was utterly sick of being a dental assistant. I had tried working my way up as a bank teller and as a recruiter’s assistant, but both jobs were unfulfilling nor interesting to me for that matter.

During the summer of 2003 I was reflecting about some of the volunteering experiences I had had abroad; one was in Honduras and the other in the Dominican Republic. Both revolved around teaching children. That’s when I had an epiphany; I remembered that when I started community college I wanted to teach English Literature at the college level, somewhere along the way I got distracted with my pursuit of becoming a dentist. It dawned on me that all of my volunteering experiences revolved around teaching children either about dental hygiene or English. This is when I decided to apply to be a bilingual teacher for the Austin Independent School District and in 2004 I got accepted to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a Masters in Elementary Education. It was during that year that I realized how much more I could learn and grow after acquiring the skills to study as an undergrad.

Since 2003 I have worked as an inner-city bilingual educator. When I first started I thought I had a lot in common with my students, but as the years go by I realize we have less and less in common. The only common factor we have is the language we speak.

Through the combined experiences of my personal education as a Latina in the USA and the opportunities I have had as a teacher; I have gained an interest to advocate for learning additional languages in public and private school settings. I have also acknowledged that my expertise and strengths lie within research and advocacy rather than actually teaching in a classroom or teaching teachers. I think I am good at what I do as a bilingual reading specialist/writing coach at a local elementary school, but I believe research and advocacy come more naturally to me.

There are several research interests I have, all of which stem from interpretations of experiencing a “bilingual life,” but also from what I have observed amongst children who are learning an additional language. They include, but is certainly not limited to how the language an individual speaks can define the identity they perceive of themselves. I wonder how the identity they perceive of themselves plays out in the different facets of their lives. I also believe that most individuals who come from lower class upbringings have what I call a *language deficiency, especially if they speak something other than Standard American English. I wonder if having a language deficiency affects their pursuit of higher education, certain jobs, and social status. Lastly, as I delve into research and advocacy for bilingual/bicultural education I hope to develop a sense of clarity in my writing and in the manner in which I speak about my work. This is one of the reasons why I am an avid reader of books by authors like Jorge Ramos whom write about what they see.

**A language deficiency is when an individual has limited vocabulary and lacks the knowledge of proper pronunciation of words or use of phrases.

Language Instinct-it’s not just the title of the book I'm reading.

It’s something that invigorates all of my senses…..I was having lunch with someone I did not know at all at Las Manitas. She was interviewing me for a Spanish teacher position. As we were discussing our experiences with language she mentioned a book called, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. I was intrigued simply by her brief summary of the book. In a nutshell, the writer of the book claims that “language” is something we all possess, it’s an innate characteristic amongst humans. One of the over-arching questions I have as I am delving into the first chapter is, “What about those individuals who can’t speak?” I am thinking of someone I know who cannot utter a word. She makes sounds, but has never uttered a word. Maybe Pinker’s deifinition of “language” is a very broad one. Maybe it’s anyone that can make a sound, even if its a single phoneme coming out of their mouth. If that’s true then our instincts have varying strengths…

*I declined the teaching position. My other instinct was telling me to venture towards something else or maybe something less time consuming.

Support a Dual Language School in Austin, Texas

Hello Everyone!

Some of you may or may not know that I sit on a board for a dual language school called, Austin Community School, hence my e-mail to all of you 🙂 We are in the process of being interviewed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which is one of the many steps charters have to take in order to be “approved.” Please join us in advocating for dual language education in Austin, Texas by adding your name to the link below.

As individuals who work, teach and live with multiple languages and know the importance of multilingualism, I thought you would be interested in this. We need a show of support for Austin Community School and dual language programs in Austin. Please add your name to a list of community supporters here:

Like I mentioned earlier we’re meeting with TEA on September 9th to prove that there is a need for a charter like Austin Community School. Keep in mind, even if you love your kids’ school, have plans to send them to a different school, live far away, or don’t have kids, your /support for the idea/ of Austin Community School is absolutely important. It will only take a minute to add your name. And *please pass this along* to anyone else,(students, teachers, colleagues) who may be interested.

Thank you for your help! (
IF you have any questions about ACS or dual language education PLEASE don’t hesitate to contact me.