On any given day, I can be heard shifting between two languages seamlessly, English and Spanish, weaving in and out of my speech depending on who I am around. Most of the time Spanish is for home and family, while English is for school and friends. This came about thanks to my move from Barranquilla, Colombia to Tampa, Florida at the age of seven. Growing up in a completely Spanish-speaking household has allowed me to stay in touch with my culture, and furthermore, continue learning more about the country I left behind.
Every Spanish speaking country has a different accent and has a varied vocabulary. In particular, within Colombia, there are considerable differences between regional dialects. Many Colombians can immediately pick out what region of the country fellow Colombians are from after they speak just a few words. The accents, vocabulary, and sayings associated with each region reflect geography and demographics, and at times echo the rhythms and the vocabulary of indigenous languages that are no longer widely spoken.
Having left my hometown at young age, I am often confused by many colloquial phrases my parents use. When I ask what these mean, I learn that their meanings are typically derived from cultural or historic references, many of which I am not aware of because I no longer live in Colombia. These untranslatable phrases continually expose me to my own culture, and they give me a way to keep learning about my own country.
Language not only teaches us about where we come from, but it can help us understand cultures foreign to our own. Like eyes are windows to people’s souls, languages play a similar role, providing insight into the people who speak said language. This is why it is so important to speak in each other’s languages. Complete understanding of a country or region’s nuances only comes from this type of communication. Furthermore, speaking to people in their own language gives them the power to share their culture in their own way, without other’s assumptions getting in the way.
Sharing cultures is a powerful tool that allows us to cross boundaries and get to know people at a deeper level. Thanks to Spanish, I have maintained a connection with my home country even though I no longer live there. Through SLE, we can create and foster the connections necessary to become well versed in another culture and other people. This simple act has a potential to make our lives richer and more meaningful.