“Don’t speak Spanish to her. Speak English,” she commanded. The Social Worker looked at the grad student and rolled her eyes in Tanya's direction as if she didn’t speak English herself and drawled, “Enng-liish!” Tanya worked at a Girls Group Home in the southern U.S. and found herself up against a number of prejudices from the staff, one of which was language.
One particular girl at the home connected with Tanya because she spoke her native Spanish. The girl was still learning English, and Tanya was trying to help her assimilate into the North American culture. She managed to connect with her so at times she explained things in her language. The administration did not like this. There are many plausible arguments for English-only as the target language in education OR home life. The Group Home administrator only said, "That Tex-Mex is a dirty language.” Yup. “Dirty.” No kidding. Try not to roll your eyes back into your head when I tell you that the girl was actually from Guatemala!
I'll bet you have had experiences in another culture where you were stumbling over their language and finally heard someone answer you in yours. Relief, huh? I do believe that if you were to go and LIVE in any other country, it would serve you well to immerse yourself in the language and the culture so that each day the “light” of understanding would be brighter and brighter. You would also learn more about the people and what they were trying to teach you. Culture and education are highly integrated, whether recognised or not. Culture IS an education, right?
So, I DO agree with the idea of total immersion. I also think that finding someone who connects with your culture of origin can be less intimidating, constructive, and encouraging. I'm speaking out of experiences with this, of course. I have seen the effects of bilingual education in Central America and have personally witnessed two different academic situations in Honduras, some Spanish-speaking schools and some bilingual schools. Where did most missionaries receive the better education and learn the language of the country with fluency? ALL (that I have spoken with) said they won it at the Spanish-speaking school.
I admit that I cannot speak to their personal education directly as I began learning most of my Spanish helping the village moms of Culuco, a small village close to the ranch I worked at in Honduras. We talked as they threw clothes on a rock in the river to wash them while spreading out the soap. Although I spent MANY a stressed-out day trying to piece together what I had learned, when the lights finally came on one day I volunteered a suggestion ... something about maybe moving to another part of the river, so we weren't downstream from the cows. And I spoke out in a loud voice! And I did not think it extraordinary when everyone understood! It was an inward excitement, but THAT was a revelation worth having. Of course, I was gently chided to get over it because we were "SIEMPRE" (always) downstream from the cows!
A couple of years down, I did need to take some classes to learn how to spell though. Some of my old letters to my family in the "deep, deep south" are truly hysterical and would be embarrassingly hysterical to share with the Spanish classes I now teach.
You know the opening to 1 Corinthians 13, right? "If I speak with the tongues of men and angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." I love this verse, and I particularly like the way The Message reads ...
"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.”
1 Corinthians 13:1
No matter what language I speak, I do NOT want anyone to pass a creaking, rusty gate and think of ME. Do you? *creeeeeeeeeaak* No.
Okay, I am a North American, and I will always be a North American. Just because I have decided to claim residency in another country does not mean that I become someone else. I also do believe that although the target language in the home is spoken, the original language should not become obsolete.
One bilingual educator I met at a conference said that he did not need to learn about his Mexican roots, he needed to learn how to read and to write. Agreed. Kinda. BUT ... if he is more aware of his roots, he could encourage Mexican-Americans to put their best foot forward and dive into English while STILL REMEMBERING WHO THEY ARE. I have heard some others encourage Spanish-speakers to drop their heritage and poke fun at those who still like to buy stuff at Mexican stores. (Hey. I like to shop at Mexican stores!) I see this as a hunger for English over Memory. And that doesn't make sense to me. *creeeeeeeeeaak*
I am glad Tanya spoke to one of the girls at the Group Home in Spanish. She was not their educator, and they were not in a classroom. They were individuals with a commonality that was able to traverse other barriers and help one another understand each other’s culture better with ... TIME, LOVE, and TRUTH. Now that is real mission work. And she will also take responsibility for this ... in that she still loved her administrators and humbly listened (with caution) because she knew that love never gives up and in her work there was nothing without it.
By the way, I also happen to know that Tanya is still ... well, talking "dirty." Thank God!
AND THIS IS FOR YOU SPECIFICALLY. I would like to get a survey and/or an opinion from you as a traveller, you missionary-type. Here goes. If you are bilingual, what are some pieces of advice you can give to an individual who is trying to learn another language to fluency? Any experience with this? I'd LOVE to hear your opinions and/or stories ...