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?