¿Being Bilingual: Navigating The World With Two Identities?

Contemplating my Latino identity while Living in China

I’ve grown up my whole life with the ability to listen to a language that is a part of my very being and with the inability to express myself confidently while using it. I know that Español is a part of my identity, but I sometimes see it as a foreign part of who I am.

I struggle. With dance. With speech. With understanding my heritage.

These struggles have become more pronounced while living in China. Being in a nation where I can’t understand 99.9% of what everyone is saying is the real manifestation of solitude. I am an alien–everyone is far away. Daily reminders of the limitations I currently have here remind me of the ones I have with Español.

When I’m confused, I resort to using si to confirm what I want. And I am still met with confused eyes; I can’t wholly convey my feelings nor my very personality.

Related: Why I Decided To Live In China For A Year

Defining the term “bilingual”

I use my “Second Language” when I am confused because I am trying to access a part of my identity that remains dormant throughout the majority of the day.

My frustrations with learning Chinese are the same ones that I feel with Español, but the ones with Español wound me more. I sometimes feel as if a stranger is living inside of me. A person I admire but, one with whom I can never share intimate thoughts. It’s like I am missing out on a part of reality — I am not experiencing all of the colors and sounds life has to offer.

I feel this same sense of disconnect with myself as I do with my family. When they speak Español I can listen but, I do not contribute. This scenario has played itself time and time again, and every time it happens while I am amongst the locals in China, I’m reminded of those moments.

Being bilingual has always been like having a present that I can’t open.

Whenever I hear or read Español, a spark ignites within me. I can feel a part of me pulling towards it, everything is recognizable and at the same time distant. My two identities — American and Latino — are not necessarily opposites of one another but, they nonetheless are struggling to form a bond.

It’s like having two brains, and one is always asleep. It wakes up in continuous waves, often hiding.

I no longer want my Español to be my “Second Language.” I want it to be on par with my proficiency in English. I don’t want there to be a first or second language; I want the ability to experience myself fully. I want to be able to think in two languages — to unlock the side of me that I’ve been yearning to meet.

Related: The Art Of Being A Polymath: Not Being Married To Your Ideas

The first step in creating my own “Tower of Babel”

My inspiration and motivation for developing a discipline of practicing my Español not only stems from my recent move to China. Ever since both of my maternal grandparents have passed away, I feel a sudden urgency to master this language. I want to do so to have a stronger bond with my family.

I want to master this language before I have the privilege of raising my own children. I wish to bestow upon them the ability to have two souls, to be able to speak more than one language. Have personalities grander and more elaborate than my own, compared to when I was a child.

Now that I’m an English teacher, I’m able to see why my student’s parents want them to learn a second language. It provides them with opportunities. I want the same for myself and my children.

The only way for me to really know if I’ve accomplished any growth in Español would be to help another person do the same.

Some techniques I’m currently using to help me start exercising this part of my brain are as follows:

  • I’m now watching anime, films, and old television shows in Español. I already know some of the plots, so it’s easy to solely focus on what’s being said. Additionally, I also put my subtitles in Español so that I can learn the proper grammar as well (the placement of acentos still alludes me).
  • I’m listening to a lot of music from Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Mana, Juanes, Héctor Rey, Frank Reyes, Jerry Riveria, and more. Primarily, I’m listening to music I heard as a kid to tie back past experiences to new words. At the same time, I’m trying to dissect the meaning of the lyrics (las letras), more-so than merely trying to remember them. Doing this will help me to avoid translating the words I hear into English — I’m digesting them as they are. Finding the English translation of a word and el dificinion de la palabras en solamente Español are two entirely different things.
  • Trying to think in Español is the most laborious task of all. Thinking in Español requires a level of concentration I don’t currently have. I have to learn how to talk to myself, absorb my observations of the world, and analyze my reactions all with my other identity. For now, I’m working on at least talking to myself in the morning using the language.

Words have power, and I will try to expand my mental arsenal with these exercises.

Related: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect vs Practice Makes Perfect

This is bigger than just attempting to access another part of who I am

If I’m able to master this language I can then utilize it whenever I’m using the internet. The internet is an extension of the mind; we can learn whatever we want — from whomever we want — at any given time. Being able to utilize the power of search with another language will help me grow as an intellectual, providing me with new paradigms of thought and new perspectives on current paradigms I already know. Additionally, I will be able to advance myself professionally.

Being able to understand the global community will open myself up to new job opportunities, one of which is becoming an English teacher in a high school or college in South America.

If you’re bilingual, what do you do to practice your second language? How do you balance your use of each of them? What resources (books, websites, apps, etc.) do you leverage to advance your growth? I would love to hear from you so please write a comment below!

Thanks for your time. // Gracias por tú tiempo.

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