Living in English

My fluency in English has been a concern since I first moved here.  I always questioned whether or not I would be able to perform the language well enough.  It was not a major problem, but it made me anxious nonetheless.  I asked myself over and again, “Okay, what will be my level of English?  What kind of English will I speak?”  I spent the first twenty years of my life in Spanish and when I came to the United States, I had to start living and thinking in English.

Because I work teaching Spanish language and literature, I have the opportunity to express myself to other professors and students in both Spanish and English.  Over time I’ve learned that linguistic perfection isn’t the goal, which becomes a barrier for some immigrants.  I think English level and competency is the main fear immigrants have, or at least that I experienced when I moved to the United States.  It took me a while to come to that conclusion and I try to pass it on to my students – you’re never going to be a native speaker.  By being a native Spanish speaker, I’m never going to be a really good English speaker.  Sure, I could fake a really good accent if I wanted to but there are some slang, parts of grammar, phrases that will let people know I’m not a native speaker.  And that’s okay!  But getting to that realization took a while.

The English language becomes a barrier many immigrants face, and for myself it becomes especially apparent it when I bring my parents for vacation.  They communicate better in Spanish and in Ann Arbor they could manage.  We actually got along quite well in places with large Latino populations like Chicago or Miami.  In Hanover, where I currently reside, it is completely the opposite.  You feel a little more alienated, or ostracized if you don’t speak the language.  Many people at Dartmouth speak a foreign language because it is an academic requirement but very few people up here speak Spanish in their everyday life.  In small towns like Hanover, both the personal and the professional are conducted in English.  As a result, some spoken and most written English skills have to be at least decent, whatever that means for your occupation or personal goals.

Being Argentinian in the United States