Only a few months after leaving home for Arizona State University, I went back to Nogales for my mom's birthday. During a conversation with
my dad -- which tend to be intellectual -- I caught myself scrambling
for the correct way to say 'bachelor's degree' in Spanish. My dad leaned
back in his chair, let out a sarcastic laugh and said, "Nooo, ya se te
está olvidando el español a ti," which meant, "Oh boy, you're forgetting
your Spanish already."
There were two conclusions that I drew up from this incident and the many more that have occurred since. First, I was probably expanding my
vocabulary in college, using words that I normally wouldn't say at home
in Spanish. Second, perhaps I really was losing my ability to speak
Spanish fluently every time I left home for longer periods of time.
My parents were always the ones unconsciously reinforcing it because I had no choice but to speak Spanish with them. At college, I had the
choice. And truth be told, there weren't many situations that called for
me to use it. Either way, my Spanish was not up to par for maintaining a
conversation with my dad.
But on multiple occasions, I've also caught myself trying to find the right words in English for something I clearly know in Spanish. Or,
even worse, I hear myself say a certain word with the thickest Mexican
accent (I still have trouble with 'decision'). My English fluency lags
as well, especially when it comes to expressions and idioms.
All this confusion makes me question my ability to speak either of the languages with precision. In reality, though, it's just a reminder
that dominating -- not just being able to get by with -- two languages
is extremely difficult and high-maintenance, if not impossible. It
requires consistent reinforcement, and that's not always feasible
considering we're usually in an environment where one language
However, this doesn't mean we should let it falter. There are plenty of ways to keep up with a second language. Luckily, I still have most of my
family in Mexico and therefore get some sort of constant practice.
However, I know that in order to develop it, I'll have to incorporate it
with my career choice. Lucky for me, and every other Spanish-speaking
person, every field out there is looking for bilinguals!
Abroad View Magazine has a good article published in their fall 2009 edition on tips for keeping foreign language skills sharp.
Oh, and for the record, there's no exact word for bachelor's degree in Spanish. It's called your 'carrera,' which translates as 'career.'
Golden Mean Message: Expressing yourself in one language is extremely valuable; being able to do it in two languages is even more so. Work at it.