Like A Well-Worn Pair Of Jeans

They came to this country with only the clothes on their back and a light of hope in their hearts that the strongest gust of wind couldn’t extinguish. They walked away from all they knew for the promise of freedom. They left it all behind for visions of a better future for themselves, but more importantly for their children. Those brave souls made huge sacrifices for myself and my siblings, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for them…my parents. As with anything or anyone we leave behind, no longer accessible to us, we don’t fully bid farewell. We still carry with us a little something that will remind us of times we will never again experience.

My parents may have bid farewell to their homes, their families and friends, and the island they called home, but they held on to their language, clothing themselves in it like a well-worn pair of jeans, slipping into it and feeling the comfort of the fabric as it wrapped them in the many memories of their history and home. While my parents learned the English language of their new country, in our home, we were encouraged to speak our native language. Around the dinner table, we slipped into it easily without even realizing it. At family gatherings, children and grown ups alike easily conversed in the Spanish sounds of a faraway land.

I may not have understood my parents adamant rules on embracing our native language, but nowadays I see things clearly. Being fully bilingual has opened doors for me in many areas of my life from career opportunities to lifelong friendships. I can easily slip from English to Spanish and back again in the blink of an eye, often amazing those around me with the ease in which I do so and begging the question, “Do you think in the language you speak or do you think in one language and translate in your mind before speaking?”  To answer the question, I think in Spanish when I speak in Spanish. I think in English when I speak in English. There’s no rhyme or reason to my language of choice. I prefer to read in English rather than Spanish. I more often dream in English than I do in Spanish. However, when I pray I find I slip easily into a Spanish conversation with God…possibly because I was taught to pray in Spanish. My conversations with my mom are conducted in Spanish more often than English.

An article titled, How Speaking Two Languages Can Improve Your Brain, at About.com discusses this in further detail. According to a growing body of research, not only does speaking two languages not confuse people or slow their learning in other areas, it may actually improve your brain—carrying benefits that go far beyond communication. According to Ellen Bialystok, an internationally known psychologist and distinguished research professor at York University in Toronto, there is overwhelming evidence that being truly bilingual—speaking two languages and using them regularly—will improve your brain. For bilingual people, both languages are “always on,” always active in their brains, no matter which language they are speaking at the moment.

All scientific research aside, I am grateful my parents encouraged me to embrace our native language. I have personally witnessed those who believe everyone should speak English as it is the universal language, and frown upon those who don’t. I have personally experienced people being offended when they do not understand a conversation being conducted near them, in a language they do not understand. Thanks to my parents, when I am around someone speaking their native language, I keep in mind that those words may be the only familiar thing they still carry with them. It may be the only remnant of their homeland, helping them keep their history alive while they make a new home and create a new history in a foreign land. And, I remember what it feels like to slip into my favorite pair of well-worn jeans, the comfort they provide, each tear a memory that no amount of fading can completely erase.

If you are bilingual, do you think in one language and translate to another or do you think in the language you speak?

 

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17 thoughts on “Like A Well-Worn Pair Of Jeans

  1. Pingback: Little Miss Wordy 2013 Highlights « Little Miss Wordy

  2. Very cool post, I like the mini tribute to your parents and how you tied it all in. I wish that I could speak two languages…sadly ” I only know American” as they say in The South;) Nice post and yes I know it’s English:P

    • Thank you. When we were kids, we rolled our eyes when our parents reminded us to use our Spanish at home. I’m so grateful for it now. And I speak “American” too…attended college in Texas and miss that state every day! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. No matter what you write about, you write so beautifully…just had to say that first!
    I am so grateful NOW to be bilingual. My parents, like yours, wanted us to speak our native language, but at that age I didn’t want to. However, now I realize how important it is to embrace both, and how many doors can be opened for you by just by being fully bilingual. 🙂

    I speak both languages everyday. When I think to myself, I think in english, but when I’m speaking spanish, I think in spanish too. 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words. It is so nice to hear that someone enjoys my writing. When I think to myself, I do so in English too. I just started reading a book in Spanish, and realize I’m a much slower reader even though I understand everything I’m reading. Maybe in time, I’ll speed up. 😉

  4. I would love to be fully bilingual. It was my dream to speak 5 languages and I haven’t given up! I kinda speak 3 (Swedish and French) and read Spanish, Danish and Norwegian but Italian has to be started, possibly in Eat Pray Love style, complete with the food. Thanks for the reminder of that dream.

  5. When I was younger, I was told that the future was going to be for the bi-lingual. And today we really do have more options if we are bi-lingual. I know restaurant spanish and when someone calls and asks if I speak Spanish at work, I can get by, mostly because the one calling knows more English than I do Spanish, but I sure wish I had that gift! You are blessed! My mom keeps bragging about how she made me take typing in school even though I wish it had been more Spanish too! 😉

    • Typing! LOL I was just telling my kids the other day about taking typing classes. My little one asked, “Why? Didn’t you have a laptop?” At the age of seven, his typing skills are already pretty good. ha ha

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