Amig@s, I’m excited to bring you the third part to this little series called “The Many Faces of Bilingual.” After I wrote about the different types of bilingual back in October, I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the faces that go with each definition. If you missed the first two parts to this series, you can catch them here and here.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Camila and Libet, both Spanish English bilinguals, as well as to Yan, a Chinese English bilingual. What I find so fascinating about each of these ladies is how they use each of their respective languages to meet the different needs of their every day lives.
My parents are both bilingual so both languages were part of our household. Since we lived in Colombia, I was exposed to more Spanish on a daily basis but my parents read to me in English and made sure that Sesame Street and US movies were always available. Once I started school, I got more formal English language education since the day’s activities were largely in English. However, Spanish remained the prevailing language outside of school.
I speak both each day since I’m lucky enough to work at a nonprofit that does social and economic development in Latin America. I use both English and Spanish in my personal and work life. Conversations with my parents can be in either language although generally in one language at a time. The “No Spanglish” Rule instituted when I was a child still seems to apply. At work, we use Spanish to communicate with partners in Latin America and English to communicate with those in the U.S.
Being bilingual means having a window into different cultures. It means being able to understand not just the words but the cultural undertones, traditions and way of life. It means being able to establish relationships with people in a new way.
I love being able to straddle two cultures, to belong to two places at once and to communicate with people in different countries directly, without intermediaries. I could not imagine my life without both.
Cantonese is the language my parents spoke to me, since they met in Hong Kong, where I was born. However, Cantonese is not their native dialects; my dad is Shanghainese, and my mom is from Fujian Province. I learned English when I moved to the States, at age 4. In college, I took Mandarin as part of the language requirement, however, I didn’t become more interested in being more fluent, until a few years ago.
I use English everyday, Cantonese when I speak to my parents, and Mandarin hardly at all. However, I’ll try to chat a little bit with friends who speak it. I use Cantonese and Mandarin in more social situations.
Being bilingual means my brain is more well-developed! Also, I think it was best that I learned Cantonese as my first language, as it’s a difficult tonal language (6 tones versus 4 tones in Mandarin). Learning a tonal language when you’re young is very useful in developing the ability to distinguish what you hear.
I love randomly being able to talk to someone who happens to also speak Cantonese; it throws people for a loop! For example, last week I chatted with my church’s new administrator, and it turns out her family speaks Cantonese, even though she grew up in Peru! I have many Peruvian friends and have visited Peru too, so that plus speaking Cantonese together was a great connector.
I would love to also be able to speak Spanish. With English, Chinese, and Spanish, I could probably take over the world!
Spanish is my native tongue. I learned a “Cubanized” English since second grade and formally since I was fifteen. I have become more fluent since coming to the USA when I was 16 few years ago.
Most of the time I think in English and dream in it as well. I still count in Spanish, like when I am doing pushups. I speak in Spanish mainly on the phone with my family. If I am in Miami with my family for more than few days I start to think and dream in Spanish.
In most areas of my work and academic career and at home with my husband I think and speak English. When I start thinking about my family I might revert to Spanish, which gets complicated when they use Spanglish.
I like the ability it gives me to connect with broader audiences. Language is a main part of culture, so it is great in breaking barriers and form diverse friendships.
I like being bilingual because I can read great Spanish poetry and have the advantage of reading great English works as well so I can connect with more authors directly. It also empowers me to have more tools to connect with people and understand them well.
Gracias and Doh Je to Camila, Yan, and Libet for sharing what being bilingual means to you!
Are you bilingual? Would you like to share what being bilingual means to you? I’d love to share your story here on the blog. Drop me a line!