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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Case for Bilingualism

I was born into a bilingual world. My parents, following in the family tradition on both sides for at least four generations, were a multicultural and multi-ethnic couple. My mother, fluent in both English and Spanish, helped me reach that same level of bilingualism.

My maternal grandparents made sure I did not lose either language even as I immersed myself in Spanish while living in Puerto Rico.

I learned to read and write both languages simultaneously, although my grandfather was more apt to read to me in English and my grandmother in Spanish.

When I began to write creatively I did so in Spanish mostly because it was the predominant language and I found its nuances and vocabulary, its very mechanics, a natural way to express my emotional state. Spanish is a very emotive language, as are all Romance languages, and I was able to express my passion in its sweet musicality.

As I got older, I began to write in English as well. English, I found, was very versatile and adaptive. Humor and sarcasm just sounded naturally snarkier in English.

The work I have done in the last year towards my self-publishing enterprise was originally done in English. It happens to be the language I use most and the fact that it is internationally used across several continents makes my work very accessible to a large number of potential readers.

But I owe a great deal to Spanish, the Mother Tongue. I fell in love with storytelling and poetry first in Spanish. Culturally, I define myself as Latina – except when forced to answer marketing surveys and some days I choose Pacific Islander just for kicks.

Most of my friends, though relatively to fully bilingual, are Spanish speakers. I wanted them to read my work too! So I translated three off my e-books for them.

This expands my market of potential readers and buyers. The first two efforts, especially because I have not written in Spanish in years, were mostly literal translations. The third was more poetic.

I still want to write something in Spanish and, as I mentioned earlier, it cannot be something trite. I want it to be meaningful.

The case for bilingualism is simple. Spanish can afford me the opportunity to tweak the essence of the work, the tonality of it. It may still include a dash of humor, but it will involve a different voice. It expands the writer’s ability to express ideas with a different emotional tenor.

More importantly, some stories can be retold in many languages, but their true essence has a language of its own. Therefore, when first written, each story must be told in the language in which they were born. To deny the story this, is like denying a good song a brilliant arrangement.

A story at its core is unplugged; picking the right language in which to tell it makes it symphonic. It’s a sketch compared to a painted canvas.

Now everyone is lucky enough to share my multiculturalism, but I encourage all writers (and readers as well) to learn a second language that speaks to their inner passions because reading, writing and conversing in a second tongue gives the soul a full orchestra (or a full palate with multiple tools) in which to experience and express life.

And this is very important: you should always be able to cuss in more than one language. It is essential for every writer to be able to spew maledictions in as many colorful ways as possible. It is a step towards sanity.

On any given day, the ability to look up at the heavens and curse your own limitations can be easily expressed thusly: “Dammit!” -- but there are some days when only this will do: “¡Carajo!”

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