Growing up Bilingual

By Roxanna Gutierrez, President’s Office Intern

Today I was remembering some of my childhood memories from elementary school; specifically, I remembered how embarrassed I used to get when I would mispronounce a word in English. First, I would blush and then I would repeat the scenario multiple times in my head until my brain would ache. This was somewhat common and frustrating for me. I had the support during school from my teachers but not the adequate help at home.

Growing up bilingual can be both a privilege and a challenge— not everyone has the advantage of having an English-speaking parent nor the privilege of having parents who can help you expand your vocabulary by reading you soothing bedtime stories. My experience as a first-generation student was difficult, but I love the perseverance it gave me because now I have the patience and ability to acquire new languages at a rapid paceI am currently learning my fourth language. Although my experience growing up bilingual helped shaped me, my feelings are not  unique, and I encourage first-generation students to embrace their frustration when learning a new language because it pays off when interacting with people who are not native English speaking.

It was not until I recently traveled abroad  and  began interacting with people of other nationalities and cultures that I realized how strange the English-only attitude that thrives in the U.S. is. By English-only attitude, I am referring to the perspective that all immigrants in the U.S.  have historically been forced to acquire, such as prioritizing English over other languages and assimilating to the  dominant culture. This attitude suppresses the desire to be bilingual, especially in Spanish. Additionally, this attitude traces back to imperialist, white supremacist history and non-inclusive immigration policies. However, the future is not only female, but it is also linguistically diverse. Because of rapid migration patterns enabled through globalization, more and more people speak multiple languages. The more we embrace other cultures and languages, the more efficient our nation becomes economically, socially, and politically. Many nations encourage the ability and  integration of bilingualism and multilingualism, and they promote a multicultural environment by respecting people from other cultures. This is what the United States needs.

The U.S., now more than ever, needs to become more accepting by respecting other languages, and by stopping the bigotry the current administration promotes.  People living in the United States need to stop constantly judging others who speak broken English or who have a foreign accent.  We take for granted what our minds can achieve when we limit ourselves to only speaking English. The focus should be on learning as many languages as possible because languages are beautiful, and it is vital that we  develop an inclusive and rich linguistic society that tolerates people from and of other cultures

People, like me, who have learned English as their second language have the gift of being able to communicate effectively in multiple ways and to smoothly adapt to other cultures. Bilingual and multilingual people can embrace cross-cultural challenges and narratives, and we are a fundamental part of the United States, its culture, and its future.

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