Posted by: Magistra | June 30, 2006

An Un-proud Moment

Like many native Californians (and probably lots of other people), I know un poquito de Español. And I use some common words and phrases. For example, I almost never ask what time it is. I ask, “¿Qué hora es?” I’ve had people not understand me, but I’ve never had a bad reaction to me using Spanish like that.

I’m in the habit when I want someone’s attention of saying, “un momento, por favor.” I don’t really know why, and I don’t think Spanish-speakers say that (at least not with my intent – but I could be wrong), but it’s a speech pattern I’ve developed. It doesn’t bother me, so I haven’t tried to drop it.

When students were in the process of turning in their homework, I wanted to stop the chatter for a moment and deliver an instruction. So I said, “un momento, por favor.” Thirteen of them got the message and looked at me. The last one muttered, “Speak English in this country.”

In the split second I spent deciding to react or not, I didn’t observe any signs anyone else heard him (and if that’s true, thank goodness for the chatter), and so I pretended I hadn’t heard him.

And of course now I regret it. It came just after the horrible homework session (see the “I’m Cool” post if you’re curious), and at that moment I didn’t feel like getting in a fight with him about it. Because it would have been a fight. He wasn’t thinking about the cultural or political implications of me using a language besides English in the classroom. All during summer school, whenever he got frustrated he’d try to get under someone else’s skin by being as rude and disrespectful as he thought he could get away with. And I let him get away with it.


  1. I too use Spanish (and also French) phrases in my everyday conversation. No one has told me that I should speak in English instead.

    Yet, that one student’s comment about how English should be the language spoken in this country, and the only one, made me think about how wrong he is and how wonderfully diverse the US is. It made me step back and look at what was around me.

    I have conciously accepted that there are many lanugages spoken in the US, as I speak three-English, French, and Spanish. Language is part of culture-so I know that there are many cultures in the US as well. I eat Latino food, I speak Spanish in conversation, I enjoy listening to Manu Chao.

    That English should be the only language spoken in the US suggests we limit our acceptance of other languages and cultures, that we shut ourselves out from experiencing all that other cultures have to offer. I’m not sure if I want that. (!)

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