Rita M. Pérez-Padilla is a sophomore majoring in Mathematics and Hispanic Studies with a minor in Computer Science. She is originally from Puerto Rico and grew up in southwestern Virginia as a bilingual in both Spanish and English. She has strength and weakness in both languages, which she shares in this article, the struggle she used to have, the progress she has made and her wish of exploring writing in Spanish language.
I didn’t speak much Spanish at home when I was growing up. My family moved out of Puerto Rico when I was three years old. Spanish is my first language, but English is my dominant language. This has created an odd dichotomy of fluency: I can understand Spanish well (at least Puerto Rican Spanish), and I have a Puerto Rican accent when I speak Spanish, but I can’t speak or write as well as a native speaker. When I took Spanish classes in high school, I ended up more preoccupied with helping my peers catch up with the work than expanding my own language abilities. Being an avid writer, I’ve been working towards the long-time goal of being able to write in Spanish without having to flip through a dictionary or thesaurus to find the right word.
Since coming to Oberlin, I’ve lived in Spanish House, which has provided me with an opportunity to practice my Spanish more casually. When we went to Puerto Rico to visit family, consistently hearing the language made me start thinking in the language, as well, and the same has happened living in an immersive environment and eating at Spanish table regularly. Most of my friends speak Spanish, so I can switch back and forth with them. Nowadays I have to make a conscious effort not to use idioms in Spanish during my math class or when talking to friends who don’t speak Spanish. Even in my English-language writing projects, I sometimes slip between languages in my notes.
Being able to switch back and forth more easily has helped my Spanish writing, but I’m still not at the level I would like to reach. When I’m writing in English I often pause to think about what the right word is. I pause in Spanish, too, but it’s difficult to differentiate between not remembering the best word and not knowing it at all. I’ve been reading more in Spanish, which helps a lot, and practicing regularly has a bigger impact that I had imagined.