Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bilingual..Si o No?

I have lived in the mountains of Puerto Rico for the past twenty seven years. If I had lived in any other Spanish speaking country for this amount of time, I have no doubt that I would be totally bilingual.

Having studied Spanish in both high school and college, I came to Puerto Rico with the ability to read and write and a pretty good vocabulary, although once I got here, I spent most of my time saying, “Que?....what?..slow down….mas despacio, por favor.” After living with a Neyorican who speaks extremely fast,in both English and Spanish, I finally can understand most people face to face. But how come I still can’t understand the guy on the radio telling jokes in the morning? I used to ask the kids if they understood what the guy said, and they would laugh and explain the joke to me. It may have been a lousy joke, but they understood it. Oh much for radio banter..what about the printed page? I should be able to read the headlines…and yet sometimes I’m at a loss for the key words….maybe they’re slang..I don’t know but it seems unbelievable that I can’t!
We have guests that swear that no one speaks English on this island. They’re amazed that with English classes in the schools and so much stateside influence of movies and television that more people don’t speak English and yet everywhere I go and ask a question, people answer me in English. I think people are shy to speak English but anxious to try and practice it, so when I ask a question in Spanish they jump at the chance to answer me in English. I suppose it’s my accent, but I’m often asked if I’d be more comfortable speaking English even though the person asking me may have their own heavy accent.

I have the utmost respect for any person who lives in a country and has to speak a language other than their native tongue. It can be exhausting…or is that just because I haven’t passed the fluency barrier? I do know that it just takes practice to speak another language. After a recent article in the local paper, we’ve had a lot of phone calls and I’ve answered a lot of questions..and with just a month or so of telephone talk, I’ve become more least on the subject of TJ Ranch…so practice is the key….but Puerto Rico can make you lazy. The beauty of Puerto Rico..besides the physical beauty…is that I can live here in a ‘foreign’ country where people speak a ‘foreign’ language and yet I can speak English, pay in dollars…it’s foreign, but ‘convenient’. I can also get by with butchering both languages and speak the familiar Spanglish. I can invent words and can be readily understood. I don’t think that would be the case in the mountains of Bolivia.

And so mis amigos….I’ll say adios and tu sabes…I’ll try to work mas duro and practice so that I don’t get so cansada trying to speak. Yo se que yo puedo..I know that I can. Don’t let me switch you over… hablame en español y dejame contestarte.

Hasta luego..


Mrs. Bennet said...

Your post made me smile this morning. Spanglish is one of the things I love most about Puerto Rico and, on the mainland, Nuyoricans. I find that when I am with a group of Nuyoricans we automatically switch to Spanglish. We might all have gone to school here, many of us with Master's Degrees from top schools, but switching languages in the middle of a conversation makes us feel "more at home." It is our way of saying, "I might live here, but I'm proud to be from there."

Evelyn said...

yah, sí, es cierto, entres más practiques, mejor ... pero a veces es mucho más fácil trabajar con lo que
ya saben. Puerto Rico es mucho mas flexible que otro paises. Yo creo que es el único lugar habla "Spanglish" a fuera el EEUU en particular Neuva York, Chicago, y Florida.

Bien Hecho. :D

Wendy said...

!Estoy de acuerdo con Joan! I want to practice speaking Spanish here in PR, as much as possible, but when I do, the local folks answer me in English. I must have spoken clearly enough in Spanish because they answer my question appropriately in English. I have come to the conclusion that, out of consideration, perhaps they are trying to spare me the effort of speaking in a language which is not my native tongue - OR - they also want to practice, only in English instead. Sometimes, I will say " prefiero hablar en espanol porque necesito practicar". They already know this about me in the local post office! I have an agreement with one particular friend: she speaks English to me and I speak Spanish to her and we correct each other when we make mistakes. It must sound hilarious to listen to our conversations! I also find it interesting that in the US, we capitalize foreign languages but that is not the case when writing in Spanish. Anyway, mi esposo is just beginning to learn Spanish so we will practice at home!

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