Bilingual no more – students lament loss of primary language

Jessica Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief & News Editor

“Annie, pueda los tenedores en el lavaplato, por favor.” Seventeen-year-old Annie stares at her grandmother in confusion. Tenedores? Lavaplato? What are those?

For most, English is a first language, but for others, their native language was what they first learned as toddlers. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one in five school-aged children speak a language other than English at home.

“I talk to my mom every day in Spanish,” junior Jackie Martinez said. “I grew up speaking it [Spanish] with my family.”

Speaking more than one language has its perks. Bilingual individuals have greater access to people and resources and an increased employment rate in particular regions for specific languages. Studies show a multilingual brain is able to resolve conflict more interactively and can also resist forms of dementia such as Alzheimers.

Despite the benefits of being bilingual, growing up in the American culture has taken the “bilingual-ness” out of some students.

“When I was growing up my family spoke to me in Spanish,” senior Mayra Espinosa said. “It’s [Spanish] my primary language, but when I started going to school everyone spoke English.”

Although there is no official language for the United States of America, English is spoken and used more often. Depending on the area, instruction is generally in English. English is also taught as a core subject in all schools.

“I was put into an ELD class in elementary school where they made me speak English,” Espinosa said.

Bilingual students are affected by their school environment because they must learn English in addition to their native language to get an education. In the process, some gradually lose the ability to speak their primary language due to being surrounded by only English speakers.

“It is just the younger generation,” Assistant Principal Dennis To said of those who no longer speak their native language. “They’re adapting to their environment and the American culture.”

To still retains his primary language of Vietnamese to this day, despite living in an English-speaking-only environment.

“It’s the people you hang out with that influence you,” To said. “It also depends on [your] family whether or not they speak it to you at home.”

Speaking another language fluently requires frequent practice. Without consistent use of a language, the ability to speak it will deteriorate over time.

“My family is really Americanized,” senior Angie Sanguino said. “We all speak English but I wish my family kept talking to me in Tagalog.”

Families come to America and learn English to accustom themselves to the American culture as speaking English enables them to communicate with people at their jobs and in public places. However, those who start to speak only English have difficulty speaking with their elders.

“I can’t communicate with my grandparents anymore and when I do, I have to ask for a Vietnamese translation,” sophomore Ashley Hoang said. “It’s embarrassing.”

Though it depends on the students’ preference of whether or not they want to speak their native language, their surrounding greatly impacts their bilinguality.

“I think school [and] learning English all the time made it hard for me to keep my language,” junior Alexie Infante said.

In the American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau,  English is the most spoken language in America. As a result, many “lose” their native language as they grow comfortable speaking English in the American atmosphere.

However, some bilingual students strive to keep their culture and language alive by passing it on to future generations.

“It’s important to not forget your roots and where you came from,” Espinosa said. “Being able to speak your native language and passing it down to your children will only benefit them in the future.”