So you don’t speak Spanish.
As any brief internet search will tell you, there are many people in the US who identify as Hispanic or Latino and don’t speak Spanish. This article from Latina.com gives a run-down of the typical issues people in this situation face, including explaining their life stories to justify their language situation. This CNN article describes the trend of declining Spanish use among Hispanics, and rising use of Spanish among non-Hispanics, and of course there are plenty of opinion pieces voicing perspectives on Latinos who don’t speak the language. It’s a situation that draws mixed, emotional responses – often from total strangers!
As a Latino who doesn’t speak Spanish, you’re not alone.
The percentage of Hispanics who speak Spanish is projected to fall from about 75% now, to about 66% in 2020. That means that of the 54 million Hispanics in the US, over 13 million do not speak Spanish. And 13 million is a lot.
It’s not your fault that you are a Latino and don’t speak Spanish.
More than likely, your lack of Spanish speaking ability is not your fault. You didn’t choose your race, or what language was spoken around you during early childhood, and like the rest of us, you were probably more focused on superheroes or Disney princesses than nouns and verbs. Perhaps your parents believed that speaking only English at home was the path to academic success, or they didn’t feel confident in their own Spanish language skills, or felt threatened by the community – whatever the reason, the language you spoke as a child wasn’t your choice.
And it’s fine.
Yes, there are a ton of benefits to being bilingual, but most of the US is monolingual. If you were lucky enough to learn English as a first language, the most commonly learned second language around the world, with an incredibly difficult, non-phonetic alphabet system and tough pronunciation, then be proud of that fact. You can communicate with almost a billion people.
But you may be considering wading into the language-learning experience, as a “heritage language learner.” More and more people are making the decision to study their heritage language, but the prospect of doing so might be overwhelming.
It doesn’t have to be scary to be a Latino learning Spanish.
There are a ton of resources available to facilitate Spanish language learning, and there is a lot in common with English. Conversational Spanish can be mastered in about a year, so you can look forward to chatting with others in Spanish in a relatively short time.
Being up front about learning Spanish with Latino family and friends may help.
If you have friends and family who regularly speak Spanish, but prefer to speak English with you, then you will probably want to be up front with them and let them know that you are planning to speak Spanish and would like their support. How this conversation goes will depend a lot on your family dynamic or friendships, but you can hope to find more support from loved ones by tackling the issue up front.
Language learning is messy – for everyone.
Many heritage language learners experience a lot of shame at being unable to roll an r or conjugate a verb appropriately the first time. You may feel uniquely embarrassed by shortcomings in your family language. Don’t be. Being Latino doesn’t give you magical language learning powers that allow you to skip over mistakes. Making mistakes is part of the language learning process, and it’s embarrassing for everyone – Mexican Americans who struggle to pronounce proper names correctly, or English background “gringos” struggling to find the right word to express themselves. Language learning is necessarily messy and embarrassing. Embrace the fact that you will make mistakes (and learn from them!). You may even encounter people who ridicule your language learning attempts, because there are jerks in every language. However, just as you probably wouldn’t disparage someone attempting to learn English, most people will likely welcome your attempts to learn Spanish.
Use it to your advantage.
If you’ve always been frustrated that people approach you speaking Spanish, expecting you to understand, now is your time to shine. You may not catch every word they say, but you have that many more opportunities to hear Spanish that others would die for. Others who would love to practice their Spanish with native speakers are often met by native Spanish speakers who want to practice or show off their English.
Alternatively, depending on your own flavor of Latino and your current community, you may have been frustrated at the many times you have had to explain that yes, you are really Latino. If that’s the case for you, chances are, you can simply explain that you are learning Spanish and want to practice the language to a native speaker without having to worry about the baggage of being a Latino who doesn’t speak Spanish.
Learning Spanish is hard work, but rewarding, no matter what your racial, ethnic, or language background. If you do want to jump into the language learning process, why not start with a free consultation from Confidence Learning Services? We’ve helped other heritage language learners, and we’d be happy to help you achieve your goals.
Contact us today at 1-865-226-9477 to get started.