Untold Story of Language: Blessing or Curse?

  "Why don't you speak Spanish in this house boy?" My father said for the seventh time today...in Spanish. "If you can understand my english, then why should I speak Spanish if I prefer speaking English?" I replied. He did not say anything after that. He hated it when his kids spoke to him in English then. Since we were "born Spanish" he wanted us to speak Spanish. He especially hated when we would use English slang around him. This whole language problem caused tension in the house for about half a year. Whenever we were at his friend's houses and spoke English, I could tell by his facial expressions that he was embarrassed that his friend's kids had no problems with speaking Spanish but we did. "Why don't you repeat that in Spanish?" He would ask. Me and my sisters all thought the way he acted was so ridiculous. But it kept on going for almost half a year. It also only began to get worse after some time.

   "You know what...I don't care anymore" he said randomly one day in the car. "You guys want to speak your language then go ahead." To my father, being able to speak perfect Spanish makes us the “perfect” Puerto Ricans, he thought that if every Puerto Rican he knew could speak great Spanish, then we as his kids should be able to as well. I felt relieved about that but it was just the beginning of my problems with the way I talk. I started talking more and more like the people I hung around. I began using way too much slang and that wasn't just a problem for my dad but it was a problem for some of my teachers at school as well. One day, fifth grade, I had a presentation to do on a project about grizzly bears. "Your voice was too low and I could not understand some of the words you were using...what is 'trynna'?" My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Schuler, said right after she told me I failed my presentation. I honestly felt like she was being racist for grading me on the way I spoke...it was a science presentation. Other students were surprised because they thought that I had one of the most well presented project. I didn't feel like talking for the rest of the day because I felt embarrassed. The way I speak is one of the main things that shape me so why is it a problem with other people? I have an A in every class so why is the way I speak so bad? I had so much hate for my teacher that day. Since my mother were together at the time, all I could do was go home and complain to her.

   "I tried to tell you that your 'friends' are bad influences" my mother said. I didn't think so though. They were are my "brothers." Even to this day they are. “Pshh, she trippin’ bro. She actin’ like I be smokin’ bud or something,” my friend Derrick said after I told him. I eventually got over it and ended up having no problems with the way I talked till I got to seventh grade. Science class. The teacher Mr. Dukulah, you might recognize him as the teacher who was prosecuted for sexually abusing a family member for eight years. His speech was no better than anybody's speech in the class, actually the school. He had a really strong African accent and sounded just like the one comedian Michael Blackson but he felt as if he spoke perfectly fine. He would even judge the way we talked. That class was difficult for everyone because he thought the way everyone was speaking was incorrect. People hated him. When we heard that he was arrested everyone was shocked and sort of thought that it was funny. People use to say he was a rapist because of the way he use to look at the girls in class. He would even make them do unnecessary things that they did not want to do. So it was ironic that he was charged with rape. Everyone failed most of their presentations because of what he thought was “good speech”. He taught in Africa a couple years before he came to the middle school I attended so he was accustomed to people having strong African accents. It is like the world is separated by languages.

   I not only have have been in bad situations because of the way I speak though. In eight grade I won a poetry contest because of my speech:

"Am I really good at this or is the truth untold ?

Either way ya fear shouldn't deny ya goals

Always heard first sight shouldn't defy ya goals

But if often times I'm right then sorry that's the way it goes

Say if time froze would you spend the time to right ya wrongs..."

Everyone in the lunchroom, snapping as I "spit" the poem like a rap. Afterwards I had people coming up to me like "yo the way you said that one line made the whole thing crazy!" I felt great because for once, the way I spoke was a good thing...people began to like it because supposedly it had "style".

   Speeches around the world are all so different though and they can be a good thing or a bad thing. For example, for certain men a woman with a certain accent could be the perfect wife. For a movie director, an actor with a specific accent could be a star. But for a national or worldwide company, not being able to speak “proper” could be what gives them bad reviews. It things like this that make language and speech a blessing and a curse.

   In 'If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?' by James Baldwin, he says "Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define...". He means a completely different thing but to me this quote is very critical to what I am explaining in this essay. Language is meant to define and to translate, not a way to show class or intelegence. For example, in my poem, people did not really care how I was saying the words. Yes my accent supposedly made it "crazier" but people cared more about what I was saying than the way I said it. The world does not understand that everyone speaks differently. To some people from different countries, the way we speak English could be completely differentfrom the way they do.

   The north and the south are split with accents just like the east and the west. Language and accents could be good and bad depending on where you are located. But the big question is: was there or is there a “correct” accent somewhere out in the world or will was the world always separated because of speech? I have experienced speech prejudice in both good and bad ways and it is reasons and questions like this that make language and speech such a mystery...almost like a story that has not been fully told.



Comments (5)

Myi Harte (Student 2017)
Myi Harte

one thing that grabbed me in the essay was that you said you have trouble speaking Spanish. something I learned was that you wrote a poem, and did poetry. one thing you can add is what it was like to write the poem.

Ali Driggers (Student 2017)
Ali Driggers

Nice essay. It is very unfortunate that you dealt with such teachers. You should not be discriminated against for the way you talk. One teacher just fails you for saying tryna is wrong. The other teacher had no right either!! Here he is raping people and shattering, yet he thinks that he can judge the way other people talk, and fail them for it. This is wrong. But don't let anyone change the way you speak. One thing that could be added is how SLA teachers feel about the way you talk. Remember, don't change the way you speak unless YOU, and only YOU, want to change that. Your language makes you unique. Never forget that. I love this essay, and I had no clue that you dealt with this stuff. I am so happy that you wrote about it. I love this essay.

Chloë Epstein (Student 2017)
Chloë Epstein

Hey Pedro! I loved your essay. It was well written with very interesting stories. I do think you need to work on the flow of your essay because the stories don't always connect. Although you do have one main theme to the essay, there are no transitions between the stories/ explanations. By the way I think it's really cool you write poetry :)

Tianna McNair (Student 2017)
Tianna McNair

The most shocking thing in the essay was about your African teacher. But I loved the topic you chose to write about and i feel as though your anecdotes were perfect for the essay. Next time I think you could benefit from reading it out loud because there were a few minor mistakes.

Cameron Samodai (Student 2017)
Cameron Samodai

I liked that your essay used both positive and negative events pertaining to the same thing. I didn't know that you wrote poetry. I think you could maybe add a survey or some research about what people think the "correct" accent is.