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Is it possible to dominate two languages?

Only a few months after leaving home for Arizona State University, I went back to Nogales for my mom's birthday. During a conversation with my dad -- which tend to be intellectual -- I caught myself scrambling
for the correct way to say 'bachelor's degree' in Spanish. My dad leaned
back in his chair, let out a sarcastic laugh and said, "Nooo, ya se te
está olvidando el español a ti," which meant, "Oh boy, you're forgetting
your Spanish already."


There were two conclusions that I drew up from this incident and the many more that have occurred since. First, I was probably expanding my vocabulary in college, using words that I normally wouldn't say at home
in Spanish. Second, perhaps I really was losing my ability to speak
Spanish fluently every time I left home for longer periods of time.


My parents were always the ones unconsciously reinforcing it because I had no choice but to speak Spanish with them. At college, I had the choice. And truth be told, there weren't many situations that called for
me to use it. Either way, my Spanish was not up to par for maintaining a
conversation with my dad.


But on multiple occasions, I've also caught myself trying to find the right words in English for something I clearly know in Spanish. Or, even worse, I hear myself say a certain word with the thickest Mexican
accent (I still have trouble with 'decision'). My English fluency lags
as well, especially when it comes to expressions and idioms.


All this confusion makes me question my ability to speak either of the languages with precision. In reality, though, it's just a reminder that dominating -- not just being able to get by with -- two languages
is extremely difficult and high-maintenance, if not impossible. It
requires consistent reinforcement, and that's not always feasible
considering we're usually in an environment where one language
dominates.


However, this doesn't mean we should let it falter. There are plenty of ways to keep up with a second language. Luckily, I still have most of my family in Mexico and therefore get some sort of constant practice.
However, I know that in order to develop it, I'll have to incorporate it
with my career choice. Lucky for me, and every other Spanish-speaking
person, every field out there is looking for bilinguals!

Abroad View Magazine has a good article published in their fall 2009 edition on tips for keeping foreign language skills sharp.


Oh, and for the record, there's no exact word for bachelor's degree in Spanish. It's called your 'carrera,' which translates as 'career.'


Golden Mean Message: Expressing yourself in one language is extremely valuable; being able to do it in two languages is even more so. Work at it.

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Comment by Patricia Ramirez on March 10, 2010 at 12:35pm
You are so right on the money. There are times when I beat myself up for not being able to command both languages perfectly--and by perfectly I mean crazy ridiculous perfectly. It is hard work though and with practice it does get better.
In regards to the translation of bachelor's--in Peru we call it "bachillerato" so I don't know if other countries employ this word.
Comment by Rosana Lopez on March 5, 2010 at 10:11am
Wow, your blog seems to touch on a lot of great points. I have a chicano class im taking right now and this week we are focusing on language. The mastery of both english and spanish is an accomplishment in itself. Yep, i agree that as long as you keep practicing you will keep up with both very interesting languages.
Comment by Claudia on March 1, 2010 at 2:15pm
You make very good point in your blog. I also have family in Mexico and if it weren't for them, I would have probably forgotten how to speak Spanish, since my family and I only speak English at home. I love your Golden Mean Message...definitely agree with it.
Comment by cloud.eah on March 1, 2010 at 10:25am
Carolina! I love how you always have a Golden Mean Message! I feel bad at times because I find myself "speaking" two languages but if I speak English I don't find the words that I clearly know in Spanish, then in Spanish same thing! BLAH! It's this living in the border, studying here in the US by day and watching novelas by night! :D LOL


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