Bilingual is Better

{Photo credit: Howard County Library System}

I was thrilled when Ana posted a link to a story about the first national Spanish spelling bee on our Facebook fan page this past weekend. I eagerly read the BBC story and then went searching for more because, by that time, the bee had already taken place and I wanted to find out who had won.

It was a seventh grade girl, Evelyn Juárez, from Santa Fe, N.M. I wasn’t surprised since that state has been holding spelling bees since 1994. Evelyn had to spell both kanindeyuense (someone from Kanindeyú, Paraguay) and bizantinismo correctly in order to win. There were 11 students from New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Minnesota and Colorado in grades 4-8.

Every news story about this event brought up the fact that a spelling bee in Spanish would be much easier than the one in English since, except with very few exceptions, words in Spanish are written just like they sound. I can see the point of this statement, but I still think there are a lot of words which are very difficult to spell in Spanish, especially when Spanish is not your mother tongue. I see it all the time with those who have learned Spanish as a second language. Heck, it even happens to many who’ve known Spanish all their lives. They have issues with the silent h, with s, c and z, using diéresis and definitely with accents. So no, I’m not so sure Spanish spelling bees can be so much easier than English ones. (By the way, let it be known that before all this I had no idea what kanindeyuense was nor would I have known how to spell it without looking it up.)

Either way, I still think there is tremendous value in making an event like this a competition at the national level. It is undeniable than it elevates the status of Spanish so that those kids growing up bilingual — with Spanish as their mother tongue or as the lucky students of a dual language immersion program — can finally be proud to speak Spanish as a second language. The national Spanish spelling bee gives them prestige and importance. And no one can argue with that.

I would be the proudest mother in the world if either one of my kids ever made it to a competition like this. While winning would be the ultimate prize, I think just getting there would be an accomplishment that would do wonders for their self-esteem in a country which still doesn’t really get the value of bilingualism. The mom of one of the contestants, a girl from San Antonio, TX who was the third student to be disqualified, said it best when she texted the following in Spanish to her daughter when she was eliminated:

“I want you to know that nothing makes me more happy to know that you gave it your all. You were the only one from San Antonio, and we are all very proud you made it that far.” (San Antonio Express-News)

Finally, I was saddened (but no surprised) to read that this same girl was shocked by some of the comments left on the San Antonio Express-News’ story  – which have now been deleted by that newspaper – about her participation in the spelling bee. I’ve no idea what they said, but I can only imagine some of the typical derogatory observations made by ignorant commenters. In the end, I think the fact that we now have a national Spanish spelling bee shows the real growing power of Latinos and the beautiful language that unites us.

What do you think this means to Latinos? How would you feel if your bilingual kids made it to this competition?

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