A good native English-speaking friend, like me, spent several years learning Spanish as an adult in college and abroad. Her husband is a native Spanish speaker and they are committed to raising their children to be bilingual. In a recent Facebook post she mentioned she was singing a song in Spanish to her ten month old while out shopping and a passerby “advised” her to “learn English.” The outrage at her post was evident in the comments that were generated which are, thankfully, a sign of the changing times. Some would agree that the only “positive” to this post is that my friend was mistaken for a native Spanish speaker (which is the highest of compliments when you are attempting fluency in your non-native language).
Fortunately, gone are the times when Spanish was only spoken in the home and the ignorant “learn English” comments are decreasing. People have begun to realize that learning Spanish is a celebration of culture and is also a very marketable skill as the Hispanic market is growing exponentially and comprises over half of the growth of the U.S. population in the last 10 years.
My decision to pursue learning Spanish in college was inspired by a curiosity for the Mexican culture, particularly since I grew up in South Texas where I enjoyed piñatas at birthday parties, tamales at Christmas, and Friday nights out at a club called “Planeta Mexico.” My desire to really learn the language was heightened primarily because I was living in a dorm suite with a group of seven native Spanish-speaking women, and they were always very animatedly talking about something, and I wanted “in” on the chisme (gossip). I made it my mission to learn Spanish, which involved lots of trial, error, and gentle corrections from patient friends when I mistakenly announced I was pregnant (embarazada) instead of embarrassed (avergonzada); was spreading rumors that my dorm had a pool (piscina) when I was trying to communicate that something fell on the floor (piso); and that I was hungry for a dust (polvo) sandwich, when I meant turkey (pavo) (I did finally have to flap my arms around like a bird to get that message across…).
I did reach my goal with my former roommates, and left Mexico understanding all kinds of chisme and modismos (slang). Speaking Spanish is something I’ve kept up over the years, which has enriched my life personally and afforded me rewarding professional experiences. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct primary research in Spanish for a variety of health communication projects spanning topics from obesity prevention to prenatal health, and am currently a member of our Social Marketing Practice’s Think Latino group, which focuses on supporting clients in more effectively communicating with Latinos and influencing behavior change. The team includes members from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain, as well as the United States, with a diversity of professional experience and expertise. I’m grateful to be part of an organization that is supportive of such a group, and understands the value and necessity of successful outreach to the Hispanic community. The added bonus: I can maintain my fluency by continuing to platicar (speak) en español with my Spanish-speaking colleagues!