“¡En la casa solamente se habla Español!” is what my mother and father would say to me and siblings. Translation: “You only speak Spanish when at home!” This was a rule that we children had to abide by in my house. At first, this rule was easy for me being that Spanish was the primary language of my family; however, once I began middle school this rule slowly began to annoy me. You see, the population of the middle school I attended was primarily white and the friends I began to make were also white. All but maybe two of my friends spoke only English, so a majority of my day was spent with me not only speaking but also hearing the English language.
When I would return home and my mom would ask me in Spanish how my day was, I would automatically begin speaking in English. My mom would then wait until I was done and would respond with, “¿Qué? No te entiendo.” Translation: “What? I can’t understand you.” Her response would irritate me because I knew she understood me. Although my mother was born in Mexico, she had been in the United States for many years; as a matter of fact, she even attended middle school and high school in the States, so she understood English well. I would then have to retell my story all over again in Spanish, and, along the way, she would correct me here and there making sure I pronounced every word correctly.
As the school years went by, a bad habit began to form. When it came time for me to speak with my parents, I was no longer speaking English or Spanish, now I was speaking “Spanglish.” My sentences consisted of English and Spanish words; I was now saying things like, “And then, yo le dije a mi friend que she couldn’t do that por que she was going to get in trouble!” Translation: “And then I told my friend that she couldn’t do that because she was going to get in trouble!” I spoke like this for months before my dad finally put his foot down and told me that “Spanglish” was not allowed in the home because it wasn’t a language and I sounded ridiculous. It took a couple of months to me to remove “Spanglish” from my list of languages.
Looking back, I am very grateful that my parents “forced” the Spanish language on me; I was especially grateful when I had to take Spanish classes in high school. With the Hispanic population on the rise, being bilingual has definitely come in handy. In my career, at Oxford Tutoring, being bilingual has given me the opportunity to help many clients of all ethnicities. I have had the opportunity to work with non-Spanish speaking students by helping them with their Spanish homework and preparing for their tests. While it has been extremely gratifying to help some of our local youth excel in their language studies, learning another language has afforded me the opportunity to help my community in another way as well.
Tutoring English as a Second Language (ESL) students who have needed help with the English language has enabled me to make a fundamental and positive change in my students’ lives by helping struggling students gain access to the educational opportunities that some take for granted: a standard public school education. Currently, I spend a majority of my time speaking with Hispanic parents regarding tutoring for their ESL students who are struggling academically. Being able to tell a parent that we are going to get their student the help that they need to be successful in school is truly rewarding.
Growing up I felt like my parents where mean for “forcing” me to speak Spanish to them; after all, we were in the United States of America and not Mexico. I was never going to use the Spanish language in the real-world, besides for communicating with my grandmother. As I got older, I realized that if it weren’t for them “forcing” me to learn the language, I would not be where I am now. When it comes time for me to start a family of my own, I too will be “forcing” my children to speak Spanish to me; I only hope that they too will be as grateful as I am.
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”‒Frank Smith
About the author: Marcela is an ELA, Spanish, and Math instructor who specializes in K-6 students. She reaches her students by striving to make learning fun using a variety of educational activities and games. She also works as Oxford Tutoring‘s SES Director, which enables her to reach out to the local community and help students receive tutoring who would otherwise not have the chance.