Monday, July 12, 2010

My Language Journey Part I: Childhood

I have had a distinctive relationship with language. I feel like I am from two worlds: the English speaking world and the Spanish speaking world. While I was born and raised in the United States, my home environment was far from American.

My parents were born and raised in Mexico. They immigrated to the United States as adults, where they eventually met and married. Growing up, my family spoke only Spanish in the household. My mother would always tell us that we would learn English at school and maintain our Spanish at home. She kept our Mexican culture alive through frequent visits to Mexico and by exposing us to various Spanish media outlets. During my childhood, we would listen to the news and radio in Spanish. I can recall her love of music and remember listening to popular as well as folkloric Mexican songs she would play for us.

While my parents strived to maintain an appreciation for the Spanish language and culture, they also embraced the American culture and its language. I can recall listening to many Motown hits and other popular music during the 1980s. We also celebrated American holidays such as Halloween and Christmas the American way, which was something our relatives or friends did not do.

In school I never enrolled in Bilingual or ESL classes. Although these services were offered at my school, my teachers did not see a need for them in my academic or language development. From the beginning, I loved school and never struggled academically or socially. I was a shy student who followed the rules and who played school when I got home. I knew from a young age that I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. Overall, my positive experiences with school quickly shaped my attitudes towards English.

It was during elementary school that I truly learned English and connected with the language. At school, I would speak to my peers in English and eventually started using it with my own brother at home. I had teachers who encouraged us to maintain our heritage as Spanish-speakers but who also pushed us to become better English speakers. My proficiency in English progressed each year. In fact, my English was so fluent by the fifth grade that my parents utilized me as the family’s translator. While I loved the language, I did not particularly enjoy ordering pizza and disputing bills over the phone.


  1. I love reading about your background. It is very similar to mine except I did have older brothers and sisters. As a young girl my siblings tried teaching me the language. Most of the time it sounded very strange although I tried my best to imitate it. Muy bien!

  2. Hi Elle and congratulations on your new blog!

    I love the topic you are using for your first post - it rings a bell for me as well. I was born in Canada to Greek parents and because we attended Canadian school every day, my mom enrolled us in a community Greek school and had lessons every Saturday (which I hated, I must admit!)and spoke to us in Greek most of the time. My dad spoke to us in Greek as well.

    When we moved to Greece, it went the other way around - they then spoke to us only in English.

    It is wonderful to see that your family continued the family heritage but also tried to adapt to the American way of life. Multiculturalism at its very best, given that a lot of families in the States and Canada do that, wherever they are from!

    I loved your first post,Elle! Thank you!

    Kindest regards,

  3. Hi Elle,

    Lovely post and I can relate to the whole multiculturalism aspect of your post. I'm English and live with a German in Spain. We have German, Spanish and English friends and watch the TV in German, speak to the dogs in German and Spanish and speak to eachother in English.

    No children but I have a lot of friends who are trying to figure about this bilingualism and some are successfully like your parents and some have got kids that are neither one or the other. A friend of mine has a beautful little girl who speaks Spanglish wth a Manchester accent.

    Weclome to the bogworld. I teach English in Spain to primary school kids. Hope to see you about some more.



  4. Vicky,

    Thank you for your support! It is a unique experience growing up bilingual/bicultural. I feel blessed that I am able to be a part of two worlds and move easily from one to the next. This is what I want my own students to achieve as they study their second language.

  5. Leahn,

    Thank you for your response. I am fascinated by the number of languages that you know and maintain in your household! The issue of raising bilingual/multilingual children has always been of interest to me. How does one chose a primary language? Should the parents speak both languages at the same time? How does speaking two or more languages affect the language/literacy development of the child? Among my friends and family, I have seen one language as the primary language, and the second language is introduced once the child enters school (usually around 5-6 years old). I guess everyone has their own approach and I'm certain that there are many benefits to exposing children to more than one language at a young age.