Share something you struggle with.
I attended a French Canadian school for kinder, first and second grade. I spoke French at home with my mother and a mixture of English and French with my father. He spoke some Spanish to me, but I don’t remember answering in Spanish to him. I knew key words but I couldn’t carry a basic conversation with anyone. We would visit both sides of the family for the holidays, and I spoke English with my cousins on my dad’s side. It was easy for me at my mom’s family reunions since French was the primary language. Oddly enough, my mom remembers the moment I told my uncle that my name was Speedy Gonzales.
I remember one day that we visited a Hispanic church when I had brought tiny little bear figures and a girl started playing with me during the sermon. She only spoke Spanish and I ended up agreeing to something that I hadn’t understood. She had asked me if I could give her my toy bears and I had said yes. She was pretty upset at me when I didn’t give them to her at the end.
I started learning Spanish when we moved to Houston. My parents bought a language software for me to use that had games and videos to follow along. I spoke to my cousins in El Salvador by webcam and by chatting on MSN Messenger during the summer. Then, a children’s choir was formed at church and I performed some solo parts. My Spanish improved and I could carry on a conversation.
Do I have an accent when I speak Spanish now? No, my Spanish is very neutral. A university professor couldn’t guess my background. I don’t struggle with pronunciation (although the Rs do get the best of me at times). I understand Spanish, I attend a Hispanic church, I sing, write and read in Spanish, and I have family and friends who don’t speak English. Seems like all of those things would qualify me as proficient in the language. Yet, I struggle with it every time I open my mouth to speak. I start doubting and overthinking what is the proper conjugation and word ending for what I am about to say. It comes out and I regret it because I picked the wrong verb. The irony of it all is that when I am feeling intimidated my English will have a Spanish accent to it, as if I was a native speaker. My Hispanic heritage is so strong but I feel that I fail to represent it well when my words get all jumbled up.
This is my struggle. Some days are better and I feel that I can chatter like a parrot. It makes me feel happy when I can communicate what I want to say because I know I have something good to contribute to the discussion. Other days aren’t great and I just sit there quietly, listening to the conversation. It has made me realize that we often determine someone’s intelligence by their ability to speak, and that is so wrong. Just because someone speaks very slowly and takes a long time to respond in a foreign language doesn’t mean that they are not brilliant in their own. There are so many people that come to the United States with hopes of bettering their lives. They were nurses, teachers, and all kinds of professionally prepared people back home, but they had to start over at the bottom here. It takes a lot of courage and determination to learn a new language and communicate with native speakers. Let’s show some compassion and patience.
What are your struggles?