(or How I Was Supposed to Be Fluent in Two Languages)
Note: this post was written in February 2014, but for some reason never made it to my blog. You’ll spot some anachronisms but I won’t fix them. [DAR 12/2014]
I’ve always been very proud of my Spanish. This might sound silly, considering that is my native language, but it’s true; I have a wide vocabulary (aka I know the difficult words), a very good spelling and an almost flawless grammar. I can write and speak in Spanish, not only in an informal setting, but also in a formal one. I can even get poetic.
Or at least, this was true until 3+ years ago.
Then I moved to the US, and English sort of took over. Not completely, of course, because I have Latin American friends here, happen to live with an Argentinean 😉 and also keep in touch with my people back home. The thing is, ever since I came to Michigan, I have forced myself to speak in English and get more comfortable with it, because that’s the only way to have a shot at a real life here. Regular online dictionaries and also Urban Dictionary have become my best friends. It’s paid off; my accent has become easier to understand, my vocabulary has expanded and I even use idioms on a regular basis. Boy, I’m proud of this! This blog is partial proof of how comfortable I’m with English. It’s no perfect, but I think it’s better than functional, and that’s good.
So, what’s the problem with all this, you ask? Well, the brain is an amazingly complex machine, but it is not perfect. It can’t keep two languages completely separated, it just doesn’t work like that… and that’s when the shenanigans begin and Spanglish takes over. It’s not that bad when I speak English, unless I’m very tired or really comfortable speaking and then words in Spanish just creep into my speech. Weird, I know.
But Spanish… oh my lovely cultured Cervantian (is that even a word?) Spanish! What have I done to you? It’s accurate to say that I don’t quite speak Spanish anymore, but something more Frankensteinesque, a hybrid usually known as Spanglish (oh, come on! Frankensteinesque sounds so cool! if you can pronounce it, of course). And since the Spanish speaker I talk to the most is Nico, Spanglish doesn’t get in the way of communication; it probably makes it even smoother. In case you were wondering, we only speak in Spanish to each other (unless, of course, there’s a third person who doesn’t speak Spanish), but it isn’t really Spanish, it’s Spanglish. We are both used to talking about our jobs in English, so most sciency words come in English. Any hobbies we’ve picked here are talked about in English. We even measure distances and paces in miles (I don’t think I’ve ever seriously run in kilometers). The word “pounds” (as in weight) is always used in English, never translated (seriously, I can’t for the life of me say libras). And then there are the real Frankensteins of our Spanglish: the verbs that don’t get translated, but conjugated. I have been laughed at for saying “matchear” (which is supposed to mean “to match”, but with a Spanish-ish form) before, but that hasn’t prevented me for using it more than once. Gadgets is another word that I don’t translate (I struggled the other day to find a good equivalent in Spanish and I came empty-handed). And this is all fine when I’m talking to Nico, or Lu (my common-law sister-in-law) or some other Latin American friends, but it gets really hard when talking to other people, with my parents at the top of the list (they are certainly not well acquainted with English/Spanglish). I don’t like not being able to speak proper Spanish, and it gets so frustrating when the right words won’t come to mind! I feel helpless when I struggle for words in my mother tongue. That was only supposed to happen in English (and mind you, it still does)!
But there’s something even more Frankensteinesque than our Spanglish: my inner voice. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; quite often I find myself thinking in English and halfway through the sentence I switch to Spanish and then back to English and… and I’m so glad I’m the only one who gets to hear that.
The worst part of all this? It can only get worse. How can it get better while I’m still here? The pressure to improve my English is always there, English is all around (maybe Billy Mack can make another song, ha) and Spanish is something that I have to keep alive. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’m not articulate in my mother tongue anymore. It’s just that it’s scary to see how English is creeping its way into my Spanish, how there are some words that I can’t think of in Spanish anymore (or at least I have to take the time to find them). I was supposed to be fluent in two languages, but now I struggle for words in both.
Something Funny (and Very True) Drew Said Some Weeks Ago: “Are you dating an American? You’re never speaking Spanish again! Oh, no, you have parents…”