Last week I was pretty taken aback when I heard someone say that “el Spanglish es una aberración” (literally an aberration, an outrage). The craziest thing is that this person — an old colleague and friend of my husband’s who is Argentinian, but has lived in Miami for a long time — said this as he admitted to using it himself!
Then I realized I got exactly what he meant because I used to be one of them: the anti-Spanglish, anti code-switching type. And, apparently, I was not alone.
One of the most respected scholars, experts and authors in the realm of bilingualism, and a bilingual himself, François Grosjean, wrote about this very topic just last week in his blog on Psychology Today:
Even though it is widespread, code-switching has been criticized by some who feel that it is done out of pure laziness and that it is a grammarless mixture of two languages. Many pejorative names have been used to characterize this bilingual form of communication such as Tex-Mex and Franglais. Even the word “mixing” has now taken on negative overtones. One consequence of this is that some bilinguals never code-switch and may look down upon others who do, while others restrict it to a situation in which they will not be stigmatized for doing so.
For me, it wasn’t so much that it bothered me when others code-switched, it had more to do with my own use of Spanglish – as I’ve written about before. Sometimes I still think it’s amazing that I used to think that way.
Luckily, one of the grandest things the SpanglishBaby community has brought into my life, is my own understanding and acceptance of what it really means, at least for me, to live bilingually and biculturally. I’ve finally learned to embrace the fact that I feel completely comfortable speaking both English and Spanish and that both of them — and the cultures that come with each — define me. I absolutely love that if I’m with someone who feels the same way, I can go back and forth between languages, sometimes mid-sentence, with a comforting ease that makes the conversation that much better!
So, of course, I went on to share all I’ve learned about bilingualism, mixing languages and code-switching with my husband’s colleague. After he listened to me a while, he was genuinely interested in what I was saying and told me he had never really looked at code-switching that way. Even more amazingly, he confessed that code-switching actually helps him when his stuttering gets out of control. In other words, if he’s speaking to another bilingual in, say, Spanish and he starts stuttering, he’ll switch to English to say the word he’s stuck on and then get back to the original language of their conversation! Absolutely amazing, ¿no creen?
Well, I wanted to gauge what your own thoughts are on Spanglish and code-switching, so I went to our Facebook page to ask and this is what you told us:
It looks like one of the main things is trying to figure out the definition of Spanglish or code-switching. I don’t say troca for truck either, but I do go back and forth between languages — not ALL the time. Whenever it happens, it just comes out my mouth naturally. Here’s some more:
So, what do YOU think? We’d love to continue the conversation and learn from what you have to say, so please share your thoughts on this topic!
There is something very personal and intimate with regards to using Spanglish. I have noticed that I use it when I feel close to someone, or when I have connected just because we seem to have something in common. Yesterday, for example, I was talking by phone to a Dominican woman (I’m Dominican, too) that I met online. We hardly know each other, but as soon as she began to tell me about her life journey (and I began to identify with it), I noticed that I began to switch languages. So, I like Spanglish not only because it works for many people, but also because it reflects a social-emotional connection to the folk(s) you’re speaking to.
Roxana, Gracias for addressing this important topic. Bien interesante!
That’s a great observation, Angelica, and so totally true. I, for example, have no problem whatsoever code-switching with my husband and my sister – both of whom I have a very personal and intimate relationship with.
I think I might just take another look at this subject matter from this point of view at a later point!
There’s nothing inherently wrong with mixing. The English language we know today is a real mix (just google Old English and Norman Invasion).
I can’t talk about the rest of the U.S. but here in Houston there are two different types of people who speak “Spanglish”. Some people code-switch by choice, and for a host of reasons. Yes, I certainly hope my little bilingual son will do this, his whole life. There are, however, large numbers of people who are mixing language not by choice but rather, because they never had the opportunity for a good education in either language, neither “pure Spanish” nor “pure English”.
In my family we struggle so my stepkids, nieces and nephews will not fall in this second category, but statistically, in our school district, of the 8 kids only 4 will finish high school… only 1 of them graduate college. And ours is one of the better districts… Just look at the speaking and writing skills of the typical MONOLINGUAL high-school graduate from many of our school systems in this country.
As far as I can see the only difference is that a bilingual person who does not have the education to be able to express themselves well in one language DOES know another set of words that may help get their point across if they happen to be speaking with someone else from their same background. That does make them noticeable to an outside person, especially if there’s a prejudice…
You know, when I moved to Houston I immediately noticed there are few laundromats here. Here they have washeterias. I asked (non-hispanic) Houstonians about it and they actually had no idea people don’t have “washeterias” in the rest of the country.
It’s interesting here in Texas how SOME people rage about immigrants and the same people turn right around and put jalapenos on their hamburgers without a thought…
Beth, I’ve never heard the word “washeterias,” but I’m not surprised it exists because like that one, there are many, many words out there. I heard my share of this so-called Spanglish during the 20 years I lived in Miami before moving to Colorado. People there would say stuff like “Excitate en la calle ocho” for “exit on calle ocho” or “te llamo pa trás” for “I’ll call you back”.
These, however, are not really examples of code-switching – which pretty much means to alternate between languages – but rather of something linguists and bilingualism experts call borrowing, which is the integration of one language into another usually through morphological adaptation.
I think it all has to do with status….the status Spanish has in US…which is tied to the individuals that speak it and you know what that leads us to…the whole thing on illegal immigration…so on and so forth.
I meant to say the status that Spanglish has…I guess Spanish could fir the bill as well
Status is definitely an important factor. And, yes, Spanish doesn’t really have a high status in this country. Imagine then Spanglish…
As a native English speaker who fell in love with the Spanish language & culture first in Chile, then later in Mexico, I find myself using Spanglish more often with native Spanish speakers who ‘get it’ and who are more my age.
I would never move between the two languages in the same sentence with my Ecuadorian neighbor Jorge who taught at college level both English and Spanish yet I often do so with my colleagues at early childhood conferences!
It’s the love and the comfort level a person has with the languages I feel that allows her to code switch, to use Spanglish with ease and confidence.
Dear Beth, I love how you say that you’d never code-switch with your college professor neighbor! I know exactly what you mean because I do the same. In fact, I think bilinguals are constantly doing this, trying to figure out whether or not they can code-switch taking into consideration how the other party will react.
My Dad, for example, used to hate it when I did it, but now that I think about it I’m pretty sure it had to do with the fact that while he was fully bilingual, I don’t think he was necessarily bicultural, like I am. Does that make sense?
Ambas lenguas, español e inglés, tienen una espesura afectiva diferente y el hablante elige una u otra, a veces de manera consciente y algunas veces de manera inconsciente, de acuerdo a diversos factores. Como mencionó Angélica en los comentarios, la cercanía emocional a alguien es un motivo que puede llevarnos a la elección de una lengua frente a otra. También lo es la cuestión generaional. Recuerdo hace muchos años, en una conferencia de enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras, uno de los ponentes contó el caso de sus estudiantes latinos a quienes se les había preguntado la diferencia entre las palabras -supuestos sinónimos, entre “party” y “fiesta”. Los ámbitos de ambas palabras estaban muy bien delimitados y los usos se correspondían a una fiesta de jóvenes, y a las fiestas que hacían sus familias. Cada fiesta tenía su palabra particular y no eran intercambiables.
Me encantó la anécdota porque puede entender perfectamente porque para algunas personas las palabras “party” y “fiesta” no son sinónimos. Definitivamente es una cuestión generacional y es algo que también me gustaría explorar en el futuro.
Gracias por tu visita y tu comentario, Deborah!
As I was reading the comments here and on our Facebook page, I realized I should have included something about how, ideally, when raising bilingual children, parents should try not to constantly code-switch until their kids are proficient in both languages. In other words, they should be exposed to both languages in a monolingual setting until they’re ready to understand the concept and usage of code-switching.
As we’ve said many times in the past, mixing and code-switching is absolutely normal in bilingual children, especially if this is what they are exposed to because remember that children model what they see.
I guess I assumed we all kind of knew this already because we’ve covered it in the past.
This is something that really concerns me, because many people in my son’s life are constantly using “Spanglish”. They’re NOT code-switching by choice. There’s the fact that the schools are really seriously pushing his step-siblings and cousins into English but they are not actually fully proficient in English, yet. Then there’s that some adults in the family insist on speaking to the kids almost entirely in broken English, either because they just don’t listen to reason, or because they so desperately want someone to practice with. And then there’s this common habit of inserting whatever little English people do know into their Spanish. Even the popular songs and radio DJ’s seem to think it’s somehow cool. Many, many words have worked their way deep into the language. Many people didn’t get that far in school, in “castellano”. My mother-in-law in the heart of rural Mexico speaks no English at all but she says “parquear” and “carro” not “estacionar or “choche”. I’m always saying “español por favor” but it’s like swimming against the tide. I know people are trying. What can one do?
Our son is 2-1/2 and talking non-stop, but he says things like “este works” and “quiero more”. AND to top it all off, he also needs to eventually figure out not just a lot of Spanglish, but also a lot of “indio” words. So far he is at the stage of repeatedly shouting “huacha” trying to get a girl’s attention at the playground and hasn’t realized he needs to say “niña” or perhaps “hey you”.
I can already see our biggest challenge with my son is going to be this constant mish-mash he is hearing. There is really no way I can avoid it. I speak to my son at least some of the time in English because he needs to be able to communicate with my parents too. Very often we have (sort of monolingual) English speakers, and (sort of monolingual) Spanish speakers, and fully bilingual people, all in the house together. My husband is pretty good with staying in Spanish but as for me, some days it’s all I can do to stay in 1 language per sentence.
The ideas I’ve been reading in Spanglishbaby.com about promoting the minority language are going to be VERY important as my son grows…
Oops, I meant to say “coche” not “choche” (I hope that is not something vulgar somewhere!!!)
Update: after speaking all the time with both languages mixed together for about a year and a half, our son suddenly started keeping them straight. It was like a switch was flipped. It sure was a long time coming and I was beginning to worry. But it happened!!!
It’s amazing. With someone who speaks Spanish and very little English, he speaks to them in Spanish. Likewise with someone who speaks English and little or no Spanish, he speaks to them in English. With someone who understands both, he uses a mixture! He’s code-switching!
[Except with my husband who understands English but tells him "hablame en español cabroncito" LOL-- sorry for the bad word but I think it is too funny. I love that his father does insist on all-Spanish with him.]
He stil uses spanglish words that he hears from the Spanish-speakers around him, and he doesn’t quite get that not all Spanish speakers in the USA will understand the “indio” words his family uses (from a very specific region of Mexico). I believe that will come, if he is exposed to “standard” Spanish or shall I say school-educated Spanish speakers as he grows.
BethO, what you are saying completely corroborates my experience as Spanish teacher. Many Latinos have come to my classes being completely fluent saying that they want to learn “mainstream” Spanish, just to give it a name that doesn’t connote “good” Spanish, because I don’t believe there are “bad” or “good” dialects. But certainly, if the person is interested in getting a job, depending of where he or she is looking, knowing Spanish, not only Spanglish, will be a benefit for sure.
So many interesting comments. I don’t spanglish, I Franglais. I code switch a lot with other friends who were either french growing up in NYC or had mixed backgrounds like me. I had a hard enough time maintaining my french and now my household is tri-lingual and I wonder about the franglais and the spanglish that we will have. I think I need to think more about this but my first gut instinct is that don’t have issues with code-switching as long as the person can speak either language separately when they are with someone who only speaks English or only speaks Spanish. (or insert whatever two languages you want here)
This is hard to do. I got really worried when I was speaking a few years ago to one of my french cousins who doesn’t speak any english and suddenly found I kept wanting to insert english words that either more appropriately described what I was trying to express or because I simply couldn’t remember the french word. Fine if it happens once in a while but it just started happening more and more and more. I worry that my language is already very “diluted” if you will and that my daughter’s will be exponentially so and so this is what concerns me with code switching.
My mexican MIL speaks no English and has seldom ever been out of Mexico and yes she too has some words that are definitely not spanish in origin – and there is this big question of where do you draw the line.. when does something become so mainstream that it effectively becomes part of the language officially as all languages do evolve over time. I never hear anyone in france say “casse-croute” which means to break or tear off the end of a baguette and was the word for sandwich.. now everyone says “un sandweech”
A final thought.. learning a language takes a lot of work and so does maintaining it particularly if you aren’t living in a country where it is spoken – for me at least I realize that code switching over time sort of masked the loss of my french and that I think is a shame. I live in Singapore, a country that has 4 official languages (English for all, then Mandarin, Tamil and Malay) and it is interesting to see various people’s reactions to the use of Singlish – a sort of creole mix that has emerged. Some here feel very strongly that it is becoming a language in its own right while others say that now they meet lots of people who can’t speak English or Mandarin properly and keep reverting to Singlish which also has Malay and Tamil words in it.
eek sorry really long comment, I might take this and make a blog post out of it – thank you for the great post and interesting comments!
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!
It’s wonderful hearing about franglais and singlish.
I wonder about England after the year 1066 with people mixing the older english and norman french. In the beginning times of our modern english, I wonder if it got a bad rap?
Interesting post! I don’t have a problem with Spanglish – mixing between both languages. I get confused when I hear English words made into Spanish like “parking” into “parkeo” instead of “estacionamento,” because my Spanish is not perfect, so I often go, “eso es una palabra en Espanol?”
I received many a sermon from mami about using the correct words, so I always ask, no matter how ignorant it may seem.
In many languages we see words that are native to one language become incorporated into another language, and end up smack in the middle of the dictionary. Language changes, evolves and sometimes dies, depending on its usage. I’m ok with that.
I grew up in a Spanish environment, but was also not considered truly Puerto Rican because I did not go to PR for vacation, did not 100% fluently speak the language, and I got a lot of flack from other fluent speakers who described the true PR Latina as one wearing tight, bright clothes, hair slicked back, natural tan, new how to dance the traditional dances, and new her language perfectly. Well, I am light skinned, was never taught Spanish from my parents, I just picked up whatever I could, and am modest in what I wear. I DO occasionally wear the slicked back pony tail, though, my curls are not the tight, kinky kind. I grew up with a lot of insecurities as I claimed to be Puerto Rican but had “little” to prove for it, but, as I read what you have to say about Spanglish and mixing, I find that I am RELIEVED!!! Yesterday my 5 year old daughter, out of the blue, said Muchas Gracias (probably from Dora the Explorer) after I did something for her. My husband and I just looked at each other. I leaned over and said. Te gustas hablar en espanol. SHE SHOOK HER HEAD YES. My husband still does not think she really understood what I said. We live in Italy. So we speak Italian, and we also speak American English. Some of my kids have a deep love for Spanish, and it is encouraging me to get back to using what I know, and letting that develop a love for the language, so that maybe they will study it on their own some day. I don’t know all the rules of playing basket ball, but I can teach my kids to throw and make a basket. I can teach them some vocabulary: Foul, walking, dribble, etc… I think that we just need to take each opportunity we have to let our kids learn whatever they can. Even if it is just pieces, it is better than nothing, as it can be just what is needed to build interest to learn more. No es mi culpa that I did not grow up ON the island. I still know about gandules, Spanish rice, platanos, frijoles, pan dolce, and lots of other things. That is still part of my heritage, and so it is also a part of my kids’ heritage. In my blog hopping, I have been blessed to read about several of you just encouraging us to utilize what we know to teach our kids. I LOVE that! I am going to do it!! My kids will be happy, and I am sure it will bring back lots of memories that I can also share with my kids: about my Abuela who has since passed away, about going to a Spanish church from birth to nine years old, about lots of things. THANK YOU!! Your encouragement means so much.
By the way, I found Multilingual Mama through Bringing up Baby Bilingual, and that is how I found you.
I politely disagree. English is a beautiful language. El español es un idioma hermoso. I see no reason to bastardize either of them. There are words in English that describe reality perfectly that do not exist in Spanish and vice versa. I personally despise “marketing” instead of “mercadeo” or “average” instead of “promedio”. YMMY. Just my humble opinion.
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