When I was young, I learned spanish from my family. But, as I grew older I learned English at school and had my first taste of the usage of Spanglish.
Especially in Puerto Rico, Spanglish is just so common. You will hear everybody switching from English to Spanish and back to English all in the same sentence. The fluidity of the language is astounding but, there is a way to master it. Puerto Ricans, I would care to argue, are more fluent in Spanglish than in Spanish or English. The beauty of it is though, everybody understands.
I think whenever I come back to the States, the thing that gets me isn’t that I have to speak in English all the time – it’s that even if I wanted to my Spanish words that make more sense for me to interject into certain sentences would not be understood. My whole way of communicating what I think is uprooted by using only one language instead of two to express what I’m saying.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve found myself creatively explaining certain ideas or thoughts because my usual way of speaking would not be understood. It challenges me to think about what I say and how I say those things. At the same time it’s hard. I have a way of expressing myself that is often not common among Americans.
But then again I have two ways to see the world and describe what I see and think and feel. Two languages have actually helped me understand what people say better than just knowing one would. Two languages help me understand two cultures, two ways of seeing life, two perspectives and such a multitude of other things.
While travelling Europe this summer, I realized how many other countries do make their citizens learn more than one language – or alternatively their own proximity to other countries that speak different lanugages incites the population to effectively communicate across borders. But, I come to the states and see just how few people are actually fluent in two languages, and just how many have that mentality that “this is America and we speak English, so speak English.”
It saddens me to think of the thousands and millions of people who will never know the joy – and often times frustration – of having two ways and two languages to think about what they say and do. But I guess it’s their loss…