Series Post: What Does It Feel Like to Be Bilingual? (Pep Talks)

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Favorite author moment: Sandra Cisneros. If you have not discovered her written jewel The House on Mango Street, please stop reading this blog and go check it out at your local library. You won’t regret it!

I even chose my favorite quote from Mango Street and painted it to hang in my house for forever.

Anyway, Sandra hits the nail on the head by describing how she can chatter away like a parrot in her first language (in her case, Spanish) and how she does not yet have confidence in her second language (English).

For me, I’m the confident English parrot and the insecure Spanish wallflower.

Speaking only Spanish still requires self pep talks.

In my teaching job, there is a 50% Spanish & 50% English language allocation throughout the school year. This half-and-half is not simply divided among the school day, though. That would be too simple (lol!). Instead, it is divided up by subject matter, so at the 4th grade level, I teach math mostly in English, science and social studies mostly in Spanish, and literacy switches back and forth about every 6 weeks. This language calendar creates some academic days that are heavy-Spanish or heavy-English.

On those heavy-Spanish days (literacy and science/social studies in Spanish and just math in English), I find myself still needing that self pep talk right before students arrive. There are so many factors to how well my second language flows in my brain: how well I have been sleeping, if I ate a good breakfast, or whether or not I am distracted by all the daily details. The bell rings at 8:35 and I can hear student laughter in the hallways, and I’m like, “Welp, here goes!”

Don’t get me wrong. I love the challenge! Just some days feel more mentally taxing than others. And the longer I stay the course in this language learning journey, the fewer those days and moments become.

I’ve also caught on to patterns of when my second language doesn’t flow as well.

I can sense hormonal shifts in my brain, not just in aches and pains of my physical body.

This might sound totally weird, and I have yet to explain this with actual terminology (Can anyone help with this one?).

During my cycle of monthly hormones, I can literally track which days I will be rocking Spanish and which days I will have frequent (frustrating!) mental blocks about remembering a certain word. I sometimes even stutter as I try to get out an idea quickly.

Even before learning Spanish, I knew there was a cycle of when English words would flow and when I would be hesitant to raise my hand in class as a student because the words might get jumbled.

Yup, it’s like my brain moves words around slower in both languages, or my lips want to move way faster, which then impacts the way I communicate. I can only imagine how weird that sounds, but that’s the best description I have so far.

Stay tuned for our last post in this week’s series:

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