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Growing Up Bilingual Essay Sample

Growing Up Bilingual


For most people, growing up bilingual is usually difficult, especially in a new environment. They always feel different from other people. Some people may take the adjustment positively, while others get negatively affected. The experience ends up shaping the kind of people they become. The paper examines three writers who document their bilingual experiences and explores how these experiences affected them. Moreover, the paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of being bicultural or bilingual.

Richard Rodriguez in Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood

Richard Rodriguezs experience growing up speaking Spanish and later encountering the English language in school and the society made him an anti-bilingual education activist. Rodriguez passionately opposes bilingual education claiming it makes a child socially disadvantaged. The society segregates the child, and they end up being implicit and timid in public (Rodriguez 25). He also believes that bilingual education contributes to the slow progress of such students at school. He blames his experience of not being able to speak or answer questions at school and his siblings noting his slow progress on bilingual education. His family always spoke Spanish at home, and his parents did not encourage Rodriguez and his siblings to speak English. The slow progress at school forced them to attend a special daily tutoring lesson to improve academically. The fact that Rodriguez had to rely on special tutoring, reiterates his point that bilingual education is not an effective form of education.

Rodriguezs experiences also shaped his views that English was a public and confident language. He felt that the speech of people in public was thriving with self-confidence (Rodriguez 27). On the other hand, he felt that Spanish language should be private (Rodriguez 29). He believes that what a bicultural child needs to learn at school is that they have the right and obligation to speak English, the public language (Rodriguez 29). It is only after learning English that Rodriguez gained the courage to answer questions in class. He finally felt that he was an American citizen. Moreover, after he became Americanized, his mother became more confident while in public. She started learning the names of people in their neighborhood. It emphasizes his point that English is a language of confidence.

However, there were consequences to becoming “Americanized.” It made his family lose their intimacy. The children rarely talked to their parents at home as the parents struggled to pronounce English words (Rodriguez 32). Rodriguez, however, believes that for one to gain he has to lose, and the loss of intimacy with family was worth it for the gain he received. Rodriguez advocates for assimilation and public individuality and believes that it is only through these two processes a cultural child acquires social and political advantages in the society (34). Therefore, whether a person loses intimacy of a family or not, as long as they have mastered the English language, they can be a confident individual who is able to take part in public debates.

Amy Tan in Mother Tongue

For Amy Tan, encountering English at school and experiencing the consequences of speaking a limited form of English, challenged her to become one of the few English novelists of Asian origin. Tan grew up speaking two types of the English languages. The first was the one she talked with her mother and later with her husband at their home. It was the English that Tan considered the language of understanding (Tan 76). However, it was the English that most people considered broken. To Tan, that kind of English was “mother tongue,” it was clear and natural. It was the English she was comfortable speaking with her family.

Then there is the second type of English. The one Tan learned at school that made her so efficient that she could make and answer calls disguising herself as her mother. It is the English the world considered perfect. It is the mother tongue English that made Tans mother face discrimination in the society. People in hotels, shops, and other areas of service ignored her, and some pretended not to understand her (Tan 78). In one scenario, Tans mother had gone to the hospital for a CAT scan. Upon asking for her results, she received an unbelievably rude and inhumane response. The hospital administration did not bother to take her seriously and simply told her that they had lost the results. She was asked to make another appointment. It was not until the doctor spoke to Tan who used the perfect English that her mother was assured her CAT scan would be found (Tan 79). The example emphasizes the importance people placed on the perfect English.

The mother tongue English also limited Tans possibilities in life. She fared averagely in English language exams (Tan 81). She concludes it is the reason most Asian American students go into engineering or math-related fields, where the English language is not mandatory. Wanting to prove herself after a former boss had told her that writing was her worst skill, and that she should instead concentrate on accounting management, Amy became an English major and pursued freelance writing. She finally succeeded and became an English writer proving to all that an Asian American can be good in the English language and not just math-related courses.

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Zora Neale-Hurston in How It Feels to Be Colored Me

For Hurston, being an African American in a white-dominated nation inspired her to have a positive outlook on life. Nora, having been brought up in Eatonville, Florida did not notice that there was racial discrimination in the society. Even though she would notice other villagers being timid and viewing white tourists from behind the curtains when they came visiting, she did not make much of the situation (Hurston 215). Instead, she would bravely greet and talk to the tourists emphasizing her lack of knowledge on racial discrimination.

It was not until Hurston was thirteen that she experienced racial discrimination. She had been sent to a school in Jacksonville, Florida, where the society frequently reminded her that she was colored. Even after experiencing discrimination, Hurston took it positively. She chose not to be “tragically colored (Hurston 215). She knew she had to be strong to survive. Even though several people always reminded her that her ancestors were slaves, Hurston viewed the whole slavery scenario as that her ancestors had no choice in becoming slaves as the whites bullied them into it. She believed that with discriminating against her, the whites were the ones losing her company because, after all, she was an American citizen regardless of her color (Hurston 216). Hurston clearly chose a positive outlook on life because as a citizen she was entitled to the same rights as the whites.

Advantages of Being Bicultural and Bilingual

Bilingual persons have the advantage of experiencing two cultures. They can identify with both cultures. According to Scott Momaday in The way to Rainy Mountain, he was able to identify with people in public by speaking English and with his Indian American tribe mates in Rainy Mountain by speaking the Kiowa tribe language (2153). Momaday reminisces how his Indian community had great nocturnal feasts where there was always a lot of laughter. Momaday believes that culture is important, and that he is blessed as he is able to experience both the English and Indian American cultures.

Furthermore, a bilingual person does not experience culture shock upon traveling to a foreign country. An American speaking both the English and Spanish languages would easily fit in a Spanish-speaking foreign nation. As for the opportunities, it is advantageous to be bilingual. A bilingual person can easily find job opportunities in several countries. Being bicultural also helps a person stay connected to their family. Such person is able to talk to grandparents who may not understand the English language well.

Disadvantages of Bilingualism and Biculturalism

A bilingual person, especially a child, may experience rejection from other members of the society who do not understand his culture. Rodriguez tells of an incident when white neighbors would shout at his parents to “keep your brats away from my sidewalk” (571). It is also hard for a bilingual person to be recognized for his achievements. Most of the time, people would only see his skin color and not look beyond it on his strengths and achievements. It is for this reason that bilingual people have to work extra hard. Bicultural people also experience discrimination, especially in places of services. Tans mother faced discrimination at the hospital, banks, and restaurants, where instead of offering her the needed services, people chose to ignore her. Hers is just one example of the discrimination bilingual people face.

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As the paper has articulated, individuals who grow up bicultural can have various reactions to their experiences. In the case of Rodriguez, living in an English-speaking American society motivated his anti-bicultural education advocacy. For Amy Tan, it was an inspiration to become an English bestselling author. Zora Neale-Hurston, on her part, resolved to embrace her color because, after all, she was an American citizen entitled to the same rights as the whites. Being bilingual has certain benefits such as the joy of embracing two cultures as in the case of Scott Momaday. It, however, has its downfalls such as being segregated by the society. Overall, how a bilingual person survives in the society depends on their outlook towards life.