Why I Do and Don’t Speak Spanish

I don’t look like I speak Spanish. My ancestry is predominantly Irish, with some French, German, English, and Scottish thrown in there somewhere. As a result, I’m on the paler spectrum of skin types, with sort-of blonde hair and blue eyes. A number of my customers are obviously Latino – mostly hailing from Mexico. They look like they speak Spanish – and so far, they all seem to. But I know that statistically, that’s not always the case. For some reason or another, many second-generation Latinos don’t always know their parent’s language. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable or a situation awkward by speaking Spanish to them assuming that just because they look like they should speak Spanish that they will. So for the first while, I tend not to speak in Spanish until I hear my customers speaking Spanish to each other.

Then I speak Spanish to them. Usually, they’re quite surprised – asking some variation of: “Since when do you speak Spanish?” “Have you spoken Spanish long?” “Do you know a lot of Spanish?” It’s true, I’m quite familiar with Spanish, I’ve studied it off and on for years – and through DuoLingo – I know that pretty much everyday for the last two years I’ve managed to review a lot of it – but I still find myself unprepared to speak a lot of it. The only way to really fix that is to actually speak it, stumble over making glorious mistakes, and learning as I go to develop an ear for hearing it spoken quite rapidly.

I’m getting better, I can tell – though it’s not as quickly as I’d like. My main goal is to get better at understanding others and communicating clearly enough that I’m understood – even if it’s not grammatically perfect. I still try my best to be respectful – Latinos may be a working class, and often taken advantage of – it doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be treated with dignity – we all do, but they’re also deeply committed to their families and we could learn a lot from them if only we’d learn a little humility first.

America’s actually on track to have just as many (if not more) Spanish speakers than Spain, in the years to come, it might be more and more common to see mainstream t.v. shows featuring Spanish-language programming rather than just on Univision and Telemundo. The time to learn a language isn’t when you need it, it’s long before you need it but know you’ll use it down the line.

¿Ustedes hablan español? Es difícil saber cuándo hablar español? (Do y’all speak Spanish? Is it difficult to know when to speak Spanish?) If not, can you speak other languages other than English and do you have the same difficulties?

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2 thoughts on “Why I Do and Don’t Speak Spanish

  1. I was born in Miami, but didn’t live there long. I have Cuban and Dominican in my blood. Growing up, my brother and I were never allowed to speak English while we were at home. We could only speak Spanish. My grandmother set that rule and my parents enforced it. Their reasoning was that we would speak English all day at school, and if we spoke it at home too we would risk losing our Spanish. I am SOO happy they did that. My brother and I speak English to each other now, but we speak Spanish to our parents. We have both been hired for jobs requiring bilingual speakers and have benefited greatly from knowing a second language. I know so many young people that go to our Spanish-speaking church and don’t understand the sermon because their parents never “made them” keep speaking Spanish, it was just an option. I’m struggling a little bit with teaching my husband English, it’s a little more challenging to learn a second language in your adult years, especially if you are constantly surrounded by Spanish-speakers. I won’t give up though. I think it’s also easier to pick up a third language after knowing two. Have you picked up a third language?

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    • I know my Irish ancestors were forced to assimilate, it didn’t take long for them to lose their language, their traditional foods, songs, dances, their family recipes – now all that’s left is an Irish sounding name and lots of red-heads. I just wouldn’t know where to begin to reclaim / recover a cultural identity that’s been lost for generations too numerous to count. It’s far easier to keep your identity and celebrate it – it’s what connects you to your ancestors in a tangible way.
      I maintain an account on DuoLingo, it’s a free language learning website and app that offers a pretty good overview of dozens of languages I’ve used it to study not just Spanish, but also Portuguese – though I’m a little rustier at it than I’d like. I’m also learning American Sign Language … I have a few deaf customers who might appreciate even a basic level of communication. It’s a little bit trickier for me, but it’s fun in it’s own way.

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...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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