Bilingual Dilemmas: Negotiating my use of Spanish.

Lately, I have been utterly sick of speaking Spanish. I’m tired of not knowing all the words I need to communicate with. I’m sick of trying to decide whether or not the Spanish phrase I’m using actually exists in Spanish or if I’m borrowing it from English. I find myself having to compromise my identity as a Spanish-speaking Latina living in the U.S.! I find myself meeting Spanish half way, per se. For instance, I’ve decided to speak Spanish with the custodians at work, but I’m not going to with teachers who I know are proficient and comfortable enough to speak English.

I have stated before that I came to the realization that I will never be nearly as fluent as a native speaker of Spanish until I live in a Spanish-speaking country. So, until I do, I refuse to speak Spanish unless absolutely necessary. I’m tired of negotiating conversations, thinking over and over how to say certain things, and pulling out a Spanish dictionary. I’m also tired of trying to figure out why people use Spanish and English the way they do. They “code-switch,” “borrow,” and all sorts of other creative twists.

I can only imagine what goes on the heads of my little students!

If you have ever heard me speak Spanish you would probably think I speak it well. Depending on your experiences with Spanish you may even notice my errors. I consider myself very proficient, but my mind is actively thinking about what I’m saying as I’m saying it and it drives me insane. In other words, I want my use of Spanish to be as automatic as my use of English.

What does this mean in terms of my research interests?

Good question. I recently learned that sometimes the actually “study” may come after  exploring a pseudo-study. For example, when I began my case study this past fall I had a very specific skill in mind that I wanted to work on with my student. I wanted to analyze how her proficiency in Spanish may or may not be detrimental to her writing experiences in junior high. Yes, I know it seems broad. After two months of meeting with my case study I came to the realization about what I actually would have liked to focus on. Unfortunately, I realized this two days before our second to last meeting. So, by writing about my frustations in regard to Spanish I may not know exactly where I’m going with this sentiment or thought, but through various explorations I may or may not be on to something. For instance, during the last two sessions with my student we decided that she would watch her favorite novelas, like she always does, and write about what happened in each novela in order to edit and revise it. She was writing about two novelas. One she summarized in English and the other in Spanish. In other words, we were using her writing about the novelas to help her learn revising and editing skills. By default, she was also learning about the English language. She also drew her own conclusion. She noticed that one thing she did in her writing in Spanish was the same thing she did when she wrote in English. The writing skills transferred!

One of the struggles I had with my case study was that we didn’t really communicate. She wouldn’t speak! I was speaking to her in English because she is scheduled to write in English on her high stakes standardized test in the Spring. As we progressed through each session we spoke less and less English and more Spanish. Spanish eased it’s way into our sessions. If my student feels as if she has to negotiate her use of English then it’s no wonder she would hardly speak to me in English!!!

One response to “Bilingual Dilemmas: Negotiating my use of Spanish.”

  1. Wow, from your first paragraphs here I got the impression you have very negative feelings about the use of Spanish…. period. Why not accept that you are still, and constantly learning to speak the language? Nothing wrong with that. I have spoken so-so Spanish all my life with my parents and English in school, so I’m definitely stronger in English. As a bilingual teacher, there was a lot I learned during the years; my Spanish grew so much, as I was working with Latinos from Dom.Rep., Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, etc. Every year I’ve been teaching, the Latino mix changes. Then, I became close with a colleague from Madrid, and my Spanish grows more and more. It is to me, a matter of pride and a desire to know and learn more. When I converse with her, I too find myself “thinking” about “how” I say things, and I’m proud when I use new vocab. or syntax.

    Do you think, and I may be reaching here, that your discomfort or disdain may come across to your students? I feel that language is the big “connector” and I use it to reach those around me. If a colleague, parent, student, stranger at the store – wants to speak in Spanish, I do so as well. No harm in it. Of course, while I teach, I manage my use of both L1 and L2 according to objectives, studdnet need, etc.

    Are you being too hard on yourself? Or might you have a distaste for using Spanish? I’m trying to figure you out. 🙂

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