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Being bilingual can be tricky sometimes. As Latinas, we either speak with an accent in Spanish, or with an accent in English. Sometimes it can feel as though we don't do either very well. Some of us are assumed to be bilingual when we're not, and vice versa. Gloria Anzaldua, a Chicana/o Studies activist, scholar, writer, and queer theorist wrote an amazing essay about this issue. A link to it can be found here.

Last weekend my cousin from Mexico (who now lives in New Jersey), visited me in Austin with her husband who is from Spain. I spent Friday night showing them the unique Austin night-life. Both my cousin and her husband know English and Spanish, but they are more comfortable with speaking Spanish. I was glad to have the opportunity to speak Spanish, because I don't have many friends in Austin who can speak it. 

My first language was Spanish, but I soon began learning English at the same time. As I got older, English became my dominant language; I would speak it with my parents, brothers, cousins and friends. Spanish became what I would use to communicate with distant relatives, aunts and grandmas. My cousins from Mexico would say I spoke Chicano Spanish, and it didn't sound like that was a good thing. It wasn't until I came to UT Austin that I really began to take pride in my Spanish. I took Mexican-American studies classes that reignited the passion I had for my culture. 

Sometimes, just as this last weekend, some insecurity about my Spanish creeps back in. As the night went on and conversation increased, I noticed that I was a little insecure about my Spanish. Is my accent weird? Am I saying this right? I wish I knew slang! These things went through my mind as I spoke to them. I learned Spanish from my parents and aunts, so I never learned slang properly. My Spanish sounds very formal sometimes, especially when I'm trying to talk to young people like me. 

I know that many Latinas/Chicanas/Tejanas feel that their English isn't very good, while many might feel that their Spanish isn't very good. Regardless, I have learned to embrace the language I speak, in whatever way I speak it, because it is a central part of my identity. However you speak your language, you should own it!  It's normal to feel insecure sometimes, just like I did this weekend. 

How do you feel about the way you speak English or Spanish (or other languages)? Do you ever feel like you're not speaking well enough? I'm interested in hearing about your experiences with language!

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Comment by Ashley Steel on February 8, 2013 at 11:38am

Arleen,

Thanks for posting this! I’ve been studying the Spanish language for what feels like forever, and yet I’m still so far from fluency. I often get shy speaking Spanish around others because of my accent and my inability to convey certain things properly, conjugate verbs correctly, etc. etc. I think you make a very important point about overcoming our personal insecurities to have the confidence necessary to speak. In my case, overcoming these obstacles would mean capitalizing upon the chances I have to practice with my Spanish speaking friends, thus getting better at the language itself, and being more comfortable with my ability to speak it.

Ashley


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