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Before moving to the USA Kara’s parents decided to
1) send her to a bilingual school.
2) start teaching her English at home.
3) take a basic English course themselves.
Interviewer: So, Kara, your family moved to the United States when you were about eight, and you had already been attending an ordinary school in Mexico and started learning Spanish as your native language. As far as I know, there was nobody in the family who could speak English. So, when your parents got a resident’s permit they considered the situation thoroughly and started attending a language course at elementary level in Mexico to have a better chance of getting a job in the States. And you started learning English at school with a bilingual program only when you moved to the US, didn’t you? Was it difficult? How did you feel?
Kara: You know, like many other children, I was really scared of not being able to communicate with strangers. But coming at an early age like that can make things much easier. Children learn differently. The child’s brain is like a sponge — it absorbs everything around it. A child doesn’t even know why he or she is doing this. When it comes to learning languages children seem to be more comfortable with sounds and intonation than adults. He says a word three times and it’s his forever. He picks up words and makes sentences, and it doesn’t matter what language he uses — the first or the second... or maybe the third. He learns them using the same method.
Int: Oh, and what did you think about bilingual education in the United States?
Kara: The school I happened to go to had a great bilingual program. They actually helped us to continue our Spanish speaking education both in reading and writing, which was great. But a lot of kids who were born and raised speaking Spanish, are deprived of that because most schools in the US don’t have bilingual programs. Once these students start school and start learning English they stop speaking Spanish in the family. Partially because they want to fit into the English speaking environment as quickly as possible. In a couple of years they cannot read or write Spanish.
Int: Now, you’ve also taken classes in French in high school. Do you think it was easier to learn French through a textbook or to learn English being thrown into the United States and having to learn it?
Kara: I think learning a second language made it much easier to jump into a third language. You already sort of have a foundation for a new language environment. But it depends a lot on the teachers and the way they teach the language because I can read textbooks and try to understand what they are teaching. However, it’s a lot easier when I have a real expert in front of me who knows the language, who can answer my questions and not only that: an expert I can listen to and hear the pronunciation and make sure that I’m doing it correctly.
Int: Kara, in your family setting, when you are having family get-togethers, do you normally speak English or Spanish or is it a mix?
Kara: It’s definitely a mix; some people call it, Span- glish. I have some younger relatives who speak English; they were raised here and speak it well. So sometimes we feel more comfortable speaking in English. But there are a lot of my relatives who moved here when they were old, and never had an opportunity to learn English — therefore I speak only Spanish to them. There are also times when talking to a certain person in English in school or in shops, I suddenly forget a word or it pops up into my head faster in Spanish, so I go from English to Spanish and then back and that’s when we call it Spanglish, just because it’s a little mixture of both.
Int: And what about your nephews and nieces? I know they were bom here in the United States. How is their Spanish?
Kara: Well, that was actually something we often talked about in our family because we didn’t want them to lose that part of, you know, their heritage and their culture. They have been surrounded by English since they were born and started speaking it when they were about two years old. But we wanted them to speak Spanish too, so we decided we would mostly talk to them in Spanish, especially for the first five years of their life. Because when they start school they come home and they suddenly just speak English and don’t want to speak Spanish anymore. So we try really hard to speak Spanish around them, at least at home.
Int: Kara, being bilingual you have a lot more choices than, say, I do with things like movies, music, books. When you go to the store and buy a book, do you normally buy it in English or in Spanish or does it just depend on the book?
Kara: I think it depends not only on the book; it depends on the mood. You know, there are times when I really feel that I forget certain things if I don’t speak enough Spanish, so then I go and buy a Spanish book so that I can keep up on that. I sometimes buy books by foreign authors that are translated into Spanish if they are really interesting. But, you know, there are times when I just want to read a really good book and the translation is not exact. So if the book is written by an American or English writer, I buy it in English just because I want the real thing.
So, when your parents got a resident’s permit they considered the situation thoroughly and started attending a language course at elementary level in Mexico to have a better chance of getting a job in the States.