The topic for today: My life [my life being my existance as a heritage speaker]
You may ask, “What is a heritage speaker?” That is a good question. I didn’t know myself until high school. A heritage language is, essentially, the first language you learn, whether it is spoken at home or spoken in your birthplace. What happens with heritage speakers is that the first language doesn’t full develop because there is a second langauge that is or becomes more dominant; so this is the language that is used outside the home to communicate with the general public. In my case, my heritage language is Spanish. Spanish is my L1 (first language for those non-teachers/linguistics majors out there), but my English is far more developed and that is where I have native-like fluency.
Why am I about to go into this? Because today was a difficult day.
Most of the reason I was hired at my job was because I have some working Spanish ability and they desperately needed another Spanish-speaker in the firm. Ironically enough, I normally work in an office that doesn’t see many Spanish clients. The area is pretty affluent and wealthy and you see too many Romney/Ryan stickers for any Latino to really feel that welcome [sorry, bad joke, but slightly true here]. That’s okay though, because they don’t hesitate to call me or conference me in a meeting or send me documents to translate or send me phone numbers to call clients.
Today was a little different. I had to cover one of my coworkers and she works in an office where most of the clientele is Latino and 90% of the Latinos are of the non-English speaking variety or are just more comfortable with someone who speaks Spanish. My Spanish got a work out, which is perfectly fine. I improve every time and it makes me feel a little better about myself because, let’s face it: after a year of Portuguese and lack of attention or slight effort in real Spanish classes, my Spanish sucks. I like being able to work on it and I’m getting just a little more confident each time [before today, of course]
But today I needed a drink after work. Why? Because I had to translate a document to a client. I couldn’t. I stumbled, I stuttered and I even broke into a sweat from panic. It’s not like it was a hard document. It may have been legal, but they’re just sentences. And come on… I BROKE INTO A SWEAT. It was horrifying. I’ve been trying so hard to get more hours at work, specifically at that office, that I had been doing every single thing they asked of me and making it my priority. My bosses said that when/if my Spanish improved, more hours would be available in that office. And. I. Couldn’t. Translate. She was even there to witness me not-translating and the confusion all over the client’s face. I’m glad she gave me the opportunity to try, but I absolutely tanked.
Some people have it very nice. They have fluency in both languages and have no problems either way. They’re lucky individuals and I’m jealous of them. The rest of us pretend we’re fluent and write it on our resume and then have to own up to it.
My comprehension, reading, and writing are almost flawless, but when it comes to speaking there’s some difficulty. Spanish was spoken in my home until I was 5 when I moved to the United States. Then my mother and I both had to learn English and we were staying with an English-speaking only host family. So we spoke English, practicing and learning. For me, it was hard to transition back into Spanish once we had mastered English. It’s a point of contension between my family and I as well as my work. If there was an easy remedy then I would have found it and done it, but there isn’t. As it stands, I may have to enroll in Spanish classes.
I guess until then, I’ll be breaking into sweats and stuttering like a fool.
PS: this was written at 12.15 and I’d watched the presidential debate. My brain is melting into the tears coming out of my eyes. Excuse the typos, grammatical mistakes, and the fact that this might now flow well. My writing never will flow well, for future reference [but that is a story for later].