On being the language minority

This past week at the middle school where I currently teach we had parent teacher conferences. Since my middle school is about 60-70% Latino students, and since I speak Spanish, I always expect a few conferences will be conducted in Spanish rather than English. This round, however, it turned out that almost ALL of my conferences were conducted in Spanish. I honestly really appreciate a good excuse to remember (and verify) that I speak another language! But I’ve got to admit — I was pretty nervous those first few times the answer to my question (“English or Spanish?”) was “Spanish”. My brain started scrambling for vocabulary, I made stupid mistakes, and I felt embarrassed for using words that may not even be real words in front of other adults. I even asked a student once if I said everything right. (She said I did good.) But it was hard! I had to communicate important information on the fly in a professional setting in a diplomatic manner — and I had to do it all in my second language. Needless to say, I felt a little off-balance for much of the evening.

Then today, as I was reflecting back on it, I realized that most of my Spanish-speaking parents probably feel like that a lot. I have the privilege of knowing that when I go into a restaurant or store there will always be someone who speaks my language there to help me. I have the privilege of knowing I can get any book or magazine or form I want in my language. I have the privilege of never having to worry whether someone is judging my intelligence because of my language abilities or accent. Or at least, I do outside of parent-teacher conference night.

I’m not gonna lie — I’m glad I don’t have to worry about those things most of the time. But I’m also glad that I did have to on one conference night, so that hopefully I will remember to have a little more compassion in the future.

9 thoughts on “On being the language minority

  1. Really good insight.  It’s definitely a privilege to be in the language majority!!  I’m at the United Methodist General Conference right now, in which there are delegates from around the world who have to rely on translators to follow everything that’s going on.  Even with as hard as we work to make translation happen, it’s still extremely difficult for the non-English speakers to fully participate in the conference.  People talk too fast so that the translators don’t have time to catch up.  Votes happen before the translators have finished letting the non-English speakers even know what they’re voting about.  Etc.  Anyway… I’ve had similar thoughts about language lately.  And I really appreciate what you wrote about it. 🙂


    1.  @CarissaLick Thanks, Carissa! And great observation — I have often wondered about translation too, especially when it’s English/Spanish and I can more or less understand both sides! I always wonder just how much is lost in translation…


  2. I very much enjoyed this post, being a student of communications and linguistics. It is a very empathetic insight into the differences between cultures and the nuances between languages that I find very fascinating! It is a very humbling experience to speak another language, something I think that most everyone should take up if for no reason but to breed empathy.


    1.  @JaredSmith Well-said, Jared! Thanks for reading! And I totally agree with you about the importance of speaking multiple languages. I wish it was a cooler / more frequent occurrence here in the States. Then maybe students who grow up speaking English as their second language would feel like they had superpowers instead of feeling like they have this sketchy secret identity that is completely useless outside their subculture.


      1.  @RebekahSchulzJackson I couldn’t help it- I saw the word ‘language’! 😀 One thing that I love more than language itself is its power to connect people. I really hope to travel outside the states someday to immerse myself in another culture and language.


      2.  @JaredSmith Totally! Where do you hope to go? Or do you just have itchy feet in general?


      3.  @RebekahSchulzJackson A few different places. I speak french, so France or other francophone countries would be awesome. I really enjoy the Chinese culture as well, but I think my real calling is somewhere in Africa.


      4.  @JaredSmith Very cool! You remind me of a high school friend of mine — he studied French and Education in college and is currently on a Youth Encounter musical team travelling through Africa. I’m sure you have folks of your own to talk to, but if you ever want to bounce questions off somebody I’d be happy to try to connect you. =)
        Good luck with your languages and I hope your future travels are everything you hope they will be!


      5. Well thank you very much! That would be really awesome. I don’t have any immediate plans except to finish college for now, but as soon as that is over I’ll be prayerfully considering the options God has presented me. 


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