Why Spanglish Was a Bad Word for Most of My Life

Spanglish!  It’s a love-hate relationship I’ve had with the language.  Growing up it was Spanish at home, English at school.  In truth, I don’t even remember talking in Spanish with my siblings… and even now it still feels a little awkward to do so – like it is unnatural between us or something.  That’s probably because as soon as we all started speaking English we just began communicating with each other almost exclusively in that language.

No Spanglish son!

In college I thought my skills in Spanish were above average until I took the Spanish assessment for credit by exam.  They told me I was mediocre and I was shocked.  It wasn’t until I started that first class – Spanish for Native Speakers – that I realized just how bad my Spanish actually was.  All my life pos, esque, troca, parkear, and so many others had been perfectly normal.  Now all of a sudden they were grammatically incorrect!  ¿Cómo qué?  Even worse, I had never even noticed all of those accents over letters and couldn’t have cared less what they meant.  My parents taught us the alfabeto and we knew there was an ll, an ñ, a ch, but that was about it.  I could read, write and speak Spanish.  I just couldn’t tell you where the malditos acentos belonged.

Somehow I managed to learn the basics.

Then, working as a full time Spanish-language print reporter it became perfectly clear to me just how detested Spanglish was among some native español speakers.  There was cringing, head shaking, laughter, even utter shock at some of the words that would come out of my mouth.  I learned what coloquialismos and anglicismos were pretty fast.  Apparently the way I wrote and talked.  A pesar de todo, I decided to persevere and learn as much Spanish as I could… to improve my own skills in the language for myself.  I did and before I knew it I was correcting my own parents in their usage of their own first language.  La camioneta.  Estacionamiento.  Lo que pasa es que…. Yup, it’s safe to say I was full of myself!  Now, thinking about that just makes me feel ashamed.  Who the hell was I to tell them their usage of Spanish was wrong?  

¡Pinche mocoso!  I drank the Kool-Aid and was pretty much a language snob.

Después de eso, going back to work in the English market with my newly honed Spanish skills – not thinking, talking and sleeping in Spanish all of the time – I began to miss my coloquialismos and anglicismos.  I loved my Spanglish dammit!  It felt like home.  Like being in the Valley with my cousins, like hanging with the eses in my neighborhood, like all of the people that I had grown up around who were like me, cómo dice la India María “ni de aquí ni de allá”.  That’s what we were.  Part Mexican.  Part American.  And finally I realized that was okay!  I’ll probably never be as good at Spanish as the native speakers.  I’ll never fully grasp all of the rules about Spanish accents… but you know what, I can maneuver Spanglish like nobody’s business!

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12 thoughts on “Why Spanglish Was a Bad Word for Most of My Life”

  1. !Estoy completamente de acuerdo contigo! I was born in the US, and have always spoken Spanish. I was bummed when I placed in level 3 Spanish when I took the college placement test. But being in Mexico City for 3 months really showed me that I will never be mistaken for a native Mexicana. I thought I could lose my Pocha accent, but that didn’t happen. Maybe if I stayed there longer? 🙂
    Keep up the great posts!

    1. Lucy, that’s so awesome… our stories seem to have so many parallels! You know I went through the same thing. Had I practiced more, had I worked in Spanish media longer maybe my skills would have gotten better. No doubt, my Spanish is pretty good as a result, but let’s just say I would be lost without Google searches for accent usage on so many occasions 🙂

  2. Ah! I’m one of the snobs! I don’t mind when people speak with poor Spanish grammar like the “pos esque” or use Spanish slang. When people shyly speak Spanish because they’re afraid of “butchering” it I think it’s great because they’re trying, be they of Latino heritage or not. But I really don’t like Spanglish. When the parqueos and yardas slip into conversations, it makes me cringe- I can’t help it. Other words like tech jargon bother me less.

  3. Anonymous, in truth I understand your position… as I mentioned at one point I actually began to share it. The thing is for me no matter how much I might have wanted to be a purist como que no me queda el zapato because I have to always look up what I can’t remember from the appropriate grammar rules etc. It is true though that those lessons in proper Spanish have been very beneficial to me personally. Whenever I need it, I know it’s still there 🙂

  4. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Spanglish. But as a Spanish professor, I try to impress upon my students the importance of knowing how to speak “proper Spanish” as well, and knowing which one to use at which times! As with any language, there is a time and place for each. As such, any Spanglish that were to show up in my classroom on an essay, etc., would be marked as incorrect!

  5. For me it depends on what you want to do with the language. In your case, you decision fits your needs. If you needed to have more formally correct Spanish for work, you might think differently. The most important thing is that language is the tool of the human, not vice versa.

  6. I think we have to remember that Chicano is a culture, our culture, to which Spanglish is probably the language of this culture.

    After years of trying to be as Mexican as I could be, even going as far as living there, I’ve realized that I have to accept what I am, Chicano – a Mexican born in the United States.

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