Livin' la vida bilingual
I'm a Latina who lives and works in two different languages and cultures. The choice of when to use one language over the other is usually self-evident: parents that only speak Spanish, a meeting with English-speaking colleagues, and so on. But as time passes, I've come to the realization that choosing one language over the other in specific situations reveals how I feel and who I really am in better and surprising ways.
For example, have you ever noticed what language you pray in, or cuss with or speak when making love? Not only did I ask myself these questions, I went home looking for answers from the bilinguals in my family.
Here's what I found out. See how you fare.
PRAY: I pray in English, but if I have to say El Padrenuestro (the Lord's Prayer), which I learned as a child, that goes in Spanish regardless. "I pray in English," says my sister Loida, "but my soul's expression is in Spanish."
CUSS: I don't cuss, but when I'm driving, my road rage is always in Spanish. As a matter of fact, I could be in the car speaking English on the phone, but if someone makes a stupidly dangerous move on the road, I immediately go into ¡La madre que lo parió! (no translation needed!)
KIDS: I've been on my sisters' case for using Spanish only to scold their kids. My sister Damaris has English-speaking kids who know exactly what the phrases ¿quieres fuete? (do you want a spanking?) or ¡eso no se hace! (you don't do that!) mean. As a matter of fact, her kids know to run fast if they misbehave and they see her take her chancleta (flip flop) off. They know a spanking is coming Latina-style!
COUNTING: No matter how long I'm in this country, and how immersed my life and language are in English, I'll always count in Spanish. And that goes especially with money. Even my little sister Damaris who has spent two thirds of her life in the US, says she still counts money in Spanish. "When I worked as a bank teller, I had to count money three times: two to yourself (always in Spanish!) and one to the customer, which I had to do in English," she says. I feel her pain!
SING: Granted, you sing to yourself in whatever language the last "earworm" song running through your head is. My playlist is long, bilingual and varied, but it's amazing how soothing a song from your childhood (like the ones my mother used to sing to us growing up) can be in moments of adult crises. I love it that my sister Damaris has continued with our tradition of singing to her kids. "The only lullabies I know are in Spanish. I don't even know A dormir, a soñar ("Lullaby and Goodnight") in English." I love it that her babies will have this special memory in her mother's native tongue.
MAKE LOVE: It's amazing to see how a couple of foreign words can take lovemaking to another level. I love it when the Americano uses cute little pet names in Spanish (chiquita, mi amor) when trying to seduce. No matter the language, though, love is a cosa esplendorosa!
Are you bilingual? Do you prefer one language over another in specific situations? Share your experiences here.