My Monolingual Situation

I knew coming into this fellowship that my lack of Spanish language skills would negatively affect the experience considering the focus on the Central American migrant population in the community. I made it clear I didn’t know the language, but apparently that wasn’t a big enough negative to outweigh my otherwise well-suited qualities. So okay, I trust the people who hired me that it’s okay. And I suppose it is, but I didn’t expect to feel like such an asshole for not knowing Spanish.

When an eleven year old bilingual kid side-eyes you for not knowing Spanish, you’ve definitely made a mistake.

I’m able to laugh about it and make light of my monolingual situation because not knowing Spanish isn’t going to bar me from success in this country. It just means I dot put it on my resume, or don’t try to buy spices from Tania’s. But other than that, Spanish would function as flare and pizzazz in my life rather than a life skill – that’s how it’s treated for an Anglo-Saxon native citizen American who never wants to go to Florida.

Mandatory Spanish in middle school deterred me from the language, as I never seemed to grasp it; though I do boast a might impressive song to remember the countries and capitals of central America. High school I followed my friends’ move and took Mandarin Chinese, a new class for our little Lancaster school. And I did very well there, even deluding myself into thinking I’d major in Chinese Studies come college. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t. Now I plan on taking French so I can navigate my way through Beauvoir and Foucault in their native language along with francophone African/Caribbean literature. The trajectory of my language studies suggests I’ll be a mess of almost-fluency in Mandarin and French come my adult life. And Spanish…I’ll have neglected shamefully for no logical reason other than an aversion gained at the age of thirteen.

I’m trying to fix that. But my fixing my lack of Spanish language skills is nothing on the work that individuals do in ESL courses here in Adams County. Kids have the opportunity in school to learn English, though that comes with its own set of problems, as overburdened staff isn’t always able to give students the attention necessary in the language transition. Frequently, it is they who take on the role of translator for their still-learning parents. The LIU offers free classes so adults have the chance to diminish barriers not just of language but of social and economic access, giving migrants with English understanding a leg up in the market.

If I’m nervous to stumble through Google translations with a five year old child, I’m definitely in awe of anyone willing to lift their voices in another language.
Beauregard Charles ’17
Gettysburg

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