Students Challenge Negative Perceptions Of Spanglish

Oct 25, 2019
Originally published on October 25, 2019 6:07 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many Latinx people born in the United States speak Spanglish - that's a version of Spanish that's been influenced by contact with English. The dialect is sometimes looked down upon by native speakers of both languages. But at one San Antonio College, Latinx students are learning to challenge those negative perceptions. Camille Phillips of Texas Public Radio has more.

CAMILLE PHILLIPS, BYLINE: In a classroom above the chapel at St. Mary's University, more than a dozen students meet twice a week to talk about the history and culture of U.S. Spanish. Professor Meghann Peace sets up today's lesson by emphasizing that the U.S. Spanish dialect sometimes called Spanglish is just as valid as any other Spanish dialect.

MEGHANN PEACE: (Speaking Spanish).

PHILLIPS: Most of Peace's students grew up speaking a mix of Spanish and English. She asked if they ever get negative reactions when they code switch and if so, why.

PEACE: (Speaking Spanish).

PHILLIPS: Mary Villines says people who only speak one language sometimes assume she doesn't speak their language well if she code switches.

MARY VILLINES: (Speaking Spanish).

PHILLIPS: She says it bothers her when people correct her even though they don't know what she's saying. This class is a rare safe space for Spanglish. Even in a state like Texas, where nearly 30% of the population speaks Spanish at home, many of the students in this class have internalized the idea that it's better to speak, quote, "pure Spanish."

ANGIE BRAVO: I think the one that judges me the most is myself because I want to be able to practice Spanish and be able to carry a conversation fully within Spanish.

PHILLIPS: Freshman Angie Bravo from Laredo, Texas, says her parents had to learn English as adults, so they never judged her for mixing it with Spanish.

BRAVO: I think they were just moreso proud and relieved that I'm just able to speak English.

PHILLIPS: For others, there's a stigma around speaking Spanish. That's especially true for Hispanics whose families encountered strict English-only policies at school.

ELISHA CARRILLO: My grandparents talk a lot about being discriminated in school for speaking Spanish and, you know, being hit.

PHILLIPS: Elisha Carrillo's family has lived in San Antonio for generations. The international studies major says her mom and grandma speak Spanish, but they didn't really teach it to her.

CARRILLO: I think just, like, subconsciously, they think, like, oh, we're not supposed to speak that.

PHILLIPS: She says learning Spanish in school has felt like a way to reclaim part of her cultural identity. But at the same time, she gets frustrated by people who expect her to be able to speak the language flawlessly.

CARRILLO: I think people get confused because they assume if you're brown, you speak perfect Spanish.

PHILLIPS: Their professor Meghann Peace says her students know more Spanish than they think they do. Several of them were originally signed up for a lower-level class focused on grammar and vocabulary.

PEACE: Because they thought they didn't speak it well - and on the first day, I heard them talking. And I said, oh, no, no, no. Don't even - don't give me that. You do know this.

PHILLIPS: Her goal is for her students to become more confident and learn how to defend their use of Spanglish. And she's not the only educator working to normalize the dialect. A 2016 survey found more than 40 universities across the country offer courses on Spanglish or U.S. Spanish.

For NPR News, I'm Camille Phillips in San Antonio.

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