These Latinas from El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico share the problems they encountered during the process of mastering the English language. From not having enough time to practice speaking and/or writing English in school to lacking confidence, learning a new language is incredibly challenging with a lot of obstacles.
Grammar & Finding Ways to Practice: Claudia and Edith
“Learning English at first was intimidating to me, especially because you have to think in both languages when speaking and sometimes you have to translate the things you are going to say first, and then you tell them to people. This was the greatest and worst challenge I had to face when learning English,” said Claudia Romero, 19. She adds that practicing her English skills at her elementary school helped her immensely.
“I started dominating English by the time I was eight years old. I had a bit of a problem with fluency at certain points of my learning process, but there is nothing that practice wouldn’t take away,” she said.
While Claudia was able to practice to better her language skills, Edith de la Torre, 18, had a more difficult experience. Edith studied at a bilingual school in Juarez, but lived with a complete Spanish environment both at home and sometimes in school.
“[When I was learning English], homework wasn’t enough. I realized it was just some checklist of the various topics and after those ‘to-do’ lists we didn’t really go over the chapters again, so this was useless for me.”
For Edith, she learned English through music and movies. “For my own methods of practicing, I had to help myself through music on the radio or by changing the language at the movies I saw at home. I still having problems with grammar and writing, but at least the part of vocabulary I wanted to dominate is done.”
Being a Translator: Glenda
“I was born in-between the two languages because all of my mom’s family talks in Spanish and all the members from my dad’s family talk in English. It was a little chaotic once family got reunited sometimes, but I don’t think I had a first language; I was bilingual because of this feature in my family,” Glenda Cobos said. She shares that she was aware of the differences inside her families’ cultures, and, because of these problems, she always tried to bring her family together despite cultural differences.
“I wanted both of my families to be able to interact with each other without problems of communication, so this is why I had to be the translator of the family (for both sides),” said Glenda.
“I don’t think there are people who talk 100% of either language at the place we live in right now,” said Glenda, referring to the border of Juarez-El Paso.
Cultural and linguistic differences being the main problem for Glenda, time and patience towards her family were the key in overcoming this challenge. “It was hard in the beginning,” she said, “but you get used to it.”
Lacking Confidence & Always Questioning Yourself: Edith
“I still find myself in situations where I am talking to a native speaker and I am not sure if what I said is correct. I have the habit of asking my classmates in my English class about some words or how to write certain things. This is because I still don’t have enough confidence in myself because I realize I am still learning, and I prefer to ask instead of keeping the doubt alive,” said Edith.
Being called “pocha”: Claudia and Irely
Pocho/a is a derogatory term used to refer to someone, specifically an “Americanized” Mexican, who is trying to “act white.” “Acting white” can mean several things — from dressing to speaking “English,” this term is meant to question your cultural heritage.
“People who use this word are ignorant because they don’t know the struggle of having to learn another language. Instead of criticizing us they should admire us because we want to speak fluently in both languages,” said Claudia Romero.
To deal with these critics, Irely Lara chooses to ignore them. “We should stop criticizing upon others firstly. Then, if we ever get criticized for saying one word in English when talking in Spanish, just ignore them. Any person talks the way they want so it’s ok to be like that,” said Irely, who was constantly shifting schools between communities in El Paso and Juarez.
“I practically grew up between El Paso and Juarez communities, so I was constantly speaking both languages yet people around me called me pocha. It didn’t really make any sound in me.” For Irely, the safest choice was not to pay attention, and her choice surprisingly worked for her.
Whether you are learning English for the first time or are trying to improve your English language skills, it takes time and effort. Everyone’s journey is different, but, as long as you preserver, you will get the results that you want.