My kids are officially fluent…in Spanglish

Each night I tell the kids in Spanish to go pick out their clothes for the next day of school. It’s a phrase they’ve heard a hundred times or more,

“Vaya a buscar tu ropa para mañana.”

Last night my younger son answered me back, “I already busca-ed mi ropa para mañana.”

Do you see what he did there? He added the English “-ed” suffix to make it past tense. Unfortunately, in Spanish this is not how we conjugate verbs so he should have said, “Ya busqué mi ropa.”… Even though his Spanglish answer is only understandable to English-Spanish bilinguals, I still think children are clever linguists to come up with such silliness without much thought.

Raising Bilingual Niños: Tip #2

Well, the niños are back to school which means summer, and “Spanish Summer“, is over. Does that mean I’m going to go back to speaking English with them? N’hombre! … If anything, now I need to make extra sure that I’m speaking Spanish with them here at home as most of their day will be in English with their friends and teachers. This is no longer a simple experiment or “jump start” for my children. We will now speak Spanish at home as much as possible, which is what we should have been doing from the start.

We all learned so much this summer, not just the niños, but me – and even my husband who is the only native speaker, (besides Suegra!) … One lazy Saturday morning I rolled over in bed and my husband kissed me good morning. Still half asleep I mumbled, “Now I’m hungry. I was dreaming about semita de higo.”

My husband said, “Higo?” and laughed at me, thinking I had made up a word. Later in the day I looked it up on the internet and showed him that it meant “fig” in English, but not knowing what a “fig” is either, he remained skeptical until we asked Suegra. Her very Salvadoran response to her son, “Higo! No sabes qué es higo, vos?! Puchica, ‘stas perdido, Tata.”

So, we continue to speak Spanish, and when I forget, slipping back into the comfort of English like a pair of sweat pants I should have thrown out a long time ago, even the children remind me in their own way. Just this morning my 8 year old got ready for school and then plopped down beside me in bed.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“We could read ‘Rats of NIMH’?” I said, referring to a chapter book we’ve been reading each night before bed.
“Nah,” he responded, “That’s only for noche.”

Noche. It came out of his mouth so naturally, without even thinking, his accent changing just for that one word. My kids are now responding to me in Spanglish, and sometimes even in perfect Spanish, when I’ve mistakenly spoken English to them. The tables have turned! Earlier this year it was me who would stubbornly respond in Spanish to their English, all the while, wondering if I was wasting my time.

And so the lesson (and tip #2) – Keep at it. Stay strong. Be patient. Speak to your children in Spanish as much as possible. Even if it seems like they’re ignoring you, annoyed with you, or not catching on, trust that the gears are turning and words are being filed away. Don’t forget to keep it fun and find Spanish in unexpected places. Take a “field trip” to the Latino Market, or Lowe’s Home Improvement center. That seems like a random thing to say, but check out the video and you’ll see what I mean.

And just in case anyone is wondering, Lowe’s didn’t pay me to make this video in any way. (I think they were actually kind of annoyed with us running around their store.) … Of course, if they’d like to re-model my house to say ‘thanks’, they should feel free to E-mail me.

Spanglish…el bad boy de linguistics

I would like to introduce you to mi gran amigo, the muy creativo and always fascinating, Joe Ray. You may have enjoyed some of his entertaining cuentitos in the Latinaish.com comments section, and now it’s my pleasure and honor to host this guest post he has written for us.


Spanglish…el bad boy de linguistics
by Joe Ray

Ask any bilingual professional (especially in marketing) what they think of using Spanglish and they’ll tell you there is no place for it in marketing, advertising, etc. They’ll get self righteous and well postured as they tell you this. Then as soon as they walk out, they’ll start using Spanglish, especially if a couple of beers are involved.

Why is that? Is it butchering the language? If done incorrectly, you just screwed up 2 languages. Especially if a message is being delivered via media channels to get a point across or sell something. Face it, bad use of Spanglish can make you come across as ignorant, illiterate, and like you’re part of the-low-tooth-per-head-ratio crowd.

However, on a personal interaction level, Spanglish can be great. Sort of like speaking your own Secret Global Citizen Code, like an Hombre Secreto on a mission of some sort. Or at the very least you’ll sound like you’re enjoying yourself. One time a non-Spanish speaking friend of mine, upon hearing two of us speaking Spanglish and going back and forth, asked me why we do that. Why? I never thought about it, but I guess it’s because we can. We can, therefore why not, right? It’s that Hombre Secreto Code thing, right?

I’ve always heard a lot of Spanglish. I was born in a Mexican border town and grew up in Arizona, so I’ve heard a lot of this linguistic fusion. I think it’s a natural for bilingual/bicultural gente.

Here’s a good example I’ve heard quite often around farm areas: “Okay, hay me esperas, then I’ll get mi troca y te recojo and then vamos a lonchar en la chuck wagon, okay?”

It’s a beautifully appreciated global code system when you hear it spoken really fast too. Very natural. Especially given the fact that Latinos use our hands to punctuate or tone down dialogue, even on the phone. Then when you factor in the end of the work day, some cervezas and some verbal madrazos, the lenguaje gets very colorful.

In case you’re not a fluent Spanish speaker, here’s a quick crash course in Spanglish and the art of the madrazo (cervezas not required):

  • “Hey, bring me that little chingadera, please.”
  • “If you kids don’t behave, I’m going to get my pinche chancla and then van a ver who’s in charge around here.”
  • “Hey_________(insert MLB player name here)! Don’t be such a maricón…that was a good pitch!”

That last one can be a pretty good, or bad insult. Be prepared for accompanying laughter or a potentially violent reaction. Note: on all of the above, be sure to use hand and head gestures when incorporating them into everyday conversations.

There you go. You’re now ready to start using Spanglish, and on your way to becoming a Secret Global Citizen, complete with your own linguistic code.

What are some of your favorite phrases you hear or use?

Author Bio: Joe Ray is a Latino painter and printmaker living in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as Creative Director and President of Estudio Ray, a visual branding/marketing agency in Phoenix.