Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shifting to English

     Just a few days ago I came to realize that I have been slowly shifting to English only instead of trying to use Spanish on a regular basis. There is nothing pushing or forcing me to use Spanish. After all, I’m the U.S. and English is my first and primary language. English is way too convenient, even comfortable, to make any effort to continually use Spanish when I don’t have to. And I never have to. However, if I want to keep my fluency sharp and maintain my skills, there can’t be any giving into complacency. But this had never been an issue because I’ve always been extremely motivated, driven, and as some people who know me have described it, like a bulldozer.
     Up until a few years ago as I had for most of my life, I did everything I could to make Spanish a part of my everyday life. I had gotten satellite TV to have a couple dozen channels in Spanish, listened only to Spanish language radio in my area, made friends from Latin America, spoke only Spanish to my husband (who is from South America), addressed bilingual people in Spanish before English could be established in the conversation, read newspapers and magazines in the language-anything to create a mini-immersion experience for myself. So, where did my motivation go?
     Originally, my primary motivation had been integrative, a longing to be accepted as a part of the local Latin community as a legitimate speaker of the language.  I had many successes as well as failures that come with trying to cross cultural borders within the U.S.  With time, as I starting teaching, my motivation became more instrumental, with a focus on maintaining my level for professional purposes as a high level of proficiency was integral to my professional as well as personal identity.  But this change in orientation is directly connected to my husband’s experience.  When he finally became fluent in English at first we still used Spanish because it was the default language for us-the one in which we met and established our relationship.  At the same time along with the improvement of his linguistic skills, he was becoming very Americanized and wanting to be less and less involved with any Hispanics in our area.  As I realized that I had the ultimate prize, a Spanish-speaking husband with whom I was able to sustain a relationship in his language and through his culture, along with his growing distance from the Hispanic community, my culturally oriented motivation began to fade into the background while language-as-a-tool-for-communication whenever I chose to use it came to the foreground. 
     Even though my Spanish is a part of my identity, and it still is important that others are aware of it, it doesn’t concern me as much as it did before. Through my husband’s influence I have lessened my contact with the community and have come to feel that I don’t always have to use Spanish as a social marker.  I have seen that because he no longer has emotional ties to his homeland (he feels more American than Colombian, which other Latins can’t or don’t want to understand-even seeing it as some sort of betrayal to his ‘roots’) much less to the local Hispanic community, and perhaps as a consequence doesn’t take advantage of using his native language as a social marker either, and therefore faces a certain type of rejection, why should I be concerned about it?  It’s not the exact same thing, but there is some overlap, that of linguistic and cultural crossings.  In observing his experiences with them I’ve learned to downplay their impact, just as he has. 
     As for using more English when I could use Spanish for whatever reason, I know I’m bilingual enough that my fluency doesn’t fade with time but I’m more picky about when, with whom and for what purpose I use Spanish.  Home language is routine and store or restaurant transactions are not challenging, linguistically (even when it’s complicated).  They don’t present any type of ‘practice’.  The only challenge in the latter would be to not get acknowledged as a ‘learner’.  What is more interesting is explaining and solving a problem by phone, like TV repair, billing or banking problems, or arranging for some warranty work on the house. That at least requires more thinking on your feet and using some semi-technical terms.  But that’s the good thing about being bilingual in the US-using one language or another when you want to and for me that’s a way to keep from shifting back to only English.


  1. Qué bien! Me gusta que aceptes el español como parte de tu identidad! Qué buenas cosas has escrito en tu blog! Sigue escribiendo! :)

  2. Al analizar tus letras veo que no es facil tomar el nivel que has alcanzado, cualquier persona puede ser bilingue si se lo propone, peeero; No cualquiera hace comprender a cualquiera con ese alto nivel de elocuencia que nuestra spanishprof nos da, es cierto que eres una mujer muy sabia pero sabia de verdad; y aprovecho el momento para agradecerte por tus aportes en el blog ¡y claro! ¡por lo excepcional que eres! saludos desde Venezuela