This Spanglish Hurts my Ears

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Photo by JAG Photography

Photo by JAG Photography

Although I know most people would just find it funny–I mean, even I chuckled when I first heard it–the truth is I was pretty disturbed by what happened a few days ago while my daughter, Vanessa, was building a house with her pink and purple blocks.

We were in the living room and she was telling me what she was doing when, all of a sudden, one of the towers she had built toppled to the ground. Her reaction was to calmly tell me: “No ipota. La casa se cayó, peyo ahoya yo la voy a fixear“. At first, I didn’t really pay too much attention because I got what she was saying, but then I realized what had just happened. Quickly I asked: “¿Qué?” dreading the answer, hoping I had heard wrong. Of course, I hadn’t. She went on to repeat the sentence the same exact way it had originally come out of her mouth. I can’t lie, my ears hurt!

Ok, so let me backtrack a bit to update you as to what’s been going on this summer in terms of Vanessa’s language development. Vanessa’s English vocabulary has exploded. Not one day goes by that I am not amazed by the amount of English she knows–and I didn’t teach it to her. I mean we’re talking full-fledged sentences, not just words. And it’s more than just the basic: “here you go” and “that’s mine.” No. We’re talking stuff like: “I want to go to my house now. I’m tired, mama (not mamá).” Or, “What are you doing? I want to help you with that.”

My response each and every time is to tell her I don’t understand what she is saying. I’m pretty sure she knows I’m bluffing, but it works, so I use it while I can.

I’ve been trying to figure out how this happened and I guess there’s a few answers for this. First, she’s been spending a lot more time away from me and at a drop-in daycare this summer where she interacts with both children and caretakers solely in English. Second, she’s also been spending a lot of time (well, she drives her to daycare a couple of times a week) with my neighbor across the street, who is like a Granny to her. English only in that situation, too. Finally, she’s three years old and I believe her vocabulary is just supposed to expand exponentially at this point.

Even though I am truly proud and amazed by her language development, I have started to kind of worry about how this will affect her usage of Spanish. Mostly, how it will affect her perceived need to speak Spanish–which, as we’ve said in the past–is one of the major pitfalls of raising a bilingual child.

Another thing that I’ve noticed lately is the kind of behavior that I would describe as code-switching and which so many parents raising multilingual children constantly worry about. In other words, Vanessa will say stuff like “Mama, you wanna play con this?” Why? Did she forget the word “with”? I don’t know the answer, but then again, I haven’t been worried enough about this type of language usage to find out.

However, the event described above is another story.

Some people have expressed their concern or unease with the word Spanglish. I guess both Ana and I were aware that it would bother some of our readers when we decided to use it as part of our blog’s name. In the end, I think it just depends on how you define the word. To me, it basically means what I do on a regular basis: go back and forth between English and Spanish. I believe it’s expected after being raised among two cultures and two languages for the majority of my life. Although I know I feel more comfortable speaking Spanish, as you can see from the last six months, I don’t have any problems communicating in English. However, and I’ve said this in past posts, sometimes it feels like part of what I want to express, sounds better in English if I’m speaking Spanish and viceversa. So, I go back and forth.

That said, I would never be caught dead saying something like what came out of my beautiful daughter’s mouth the other day: fixear. That simply would not ever sound better to me than using the word fix or arreglar. That’s the kind of Spanglish that I do have a problem with, the kind that hurts my ears.

Anyhow, I was hoping that episode had been a fluke. I was mistaken. A couple of days after that event, we were sitting down to have breakfast and Vanessa spotted a picture of a child on a swing on the box of cereal. Without any kind of hesitation she said: “Mira mami, ese niño está swingeando.” And this time, I truly wanted to die! I calmly told her the word was “columpeando,” but then I realized this could become an issue.

I guess I’m going to be needing the expertise of one of our Ask an Expert panelists. In the meantime, what do you think about this? Am I crazy? Am I overreacting? Or is this the kind of thing I need to deal with now and if so, how?

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