English as a Second Language
It is a struggle to adapt to a new culture and language, which may be completely different from the ones young child may have already learned. This can lead to inner conflict, confusion, and even anger. One way to handle the conflict is to cut ties with the first culture including language. But is this the answer? Doing so can create a sense of loss. In the essay “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood”, Richard Rodriguez shares his personal experience with learning English as a second language. In his linguistic journey, the author feels a disconnect between Spanish, the language used at home by his Mexican immigrant parents, and English, the language used in the public world. He raises an important question whether the primary language should be encouraged or forgotten. He disagrees with social activists on implementing the “family language” in public schools. He argues, that although the transition may be difficult, establishing public identity in the English speaking community is extremely important. It should be every child’s obligation to learn and speak English. Even though his points may be valid to some degree, the research on benefits of bilingual education proves otherwise. Richard Rodriguez was born to Mexican parents. In his early childhood, Spanish was his exclusive language used by his parents, siblings, and family. He perceived this language as a “private language”, the language that gave him comfort. It was his family language, which was used in safety of his home, apart from a strange world of “los gringos”. “To hear its sounds was to feel myself specially recognized as one of the family, apart from los otros” (329). English, on the other hand, was the language little Ricardo associated with strangers, and it was only used in the outside world. Richard felt intimidated by it, because he knew quite well that his English was poor. “My words could not extend to form complete thoughts. And the words I did speak I didn’t know well enough to make distinct sounds” (328). Rodriguez felt that he didn’t belong in the outside world. He was awkward comparing to native English speakers. He lacked confidence and he struggled to master “public language”. “I remained cloistered by sounds, timid and shy in public, too dependent on the voices at home. And yet I was a very happy child when I was at home” (330). He was also embarrassed by his parents’ heavily accented, ungrammatical English. Ricardo’s world collapses when he starts attending school and the nuns suggest to his parents, that they should only speak English at home. He no longer feels the same sense of intimacy as he did before. “ We were no longer so close, no longer bound tightly together by the knowledge of our separateness from los gringos. There was a new silence at home. As we children learned more and more English, we shared fewer and fewer words with our parents” (333). He feels betrayed by his parents when he walks in on them whispering Spanish between each other, but switching to English when they see him. At this point, Richard becomes determined to learn classroom English. Rodriguez works hard to accomplish his goal, and with time and practice, he becomes confident speaking English in public. He gains a sense of identity among his classmates and he finally feels that he belongs in a “gringo world”. His new victory doesn’t come without a price tag. As time goes on, he becomes more and more distant from his family. He has a hard time relating to them like he used to. His relatives criticize him for forgetting how to speak Spanish. They mockingly call him “Pocho”. “ I grew up the victim of disconcerting confusion. As I became fluent in English, I could no longer speak Spanish with confidence” (336). For Richard Rodriguez growing up with English as a second language was not an easy task, but it enabled him to find his place in a community. He felt that it was “his right and...
Cited: Rodriguez, Richard. “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood”. New Worlds of Literature. Writings from America’s Many Cultures. Jerome Beaty, J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1994. Print.
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