Reading Bilingual

As a young reader of the classics of English literature, I often came across phrases in French, which I could not understand. It irritated me because I couldn’t look up the words in a French-English dictionary–I didn’t have one, and this was long before the Internet existed.Given that we live in a monolingual society here in the US, of course I didn’t know French. I am bilingual but my other language is Spanish, which I learned in the home and later improved by studying in college. In my home we spoke in Spanglish:

Me: Mom, what’s for dinner?

Mom: No estoy preparando dinner. Vamos a un restaurant tonight.

Recently I read the Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. I consider it to be one of the best and most unique novels I’ve read. Some of the reviews that I came across on the Goodreads site complained that the author used too much Spanish when he wrote the book. Yes, there is some Spanish, but it doesn’t take away from the story–it enhances it. Considering that it is a story partially set in the Dominican Republic, it makes sense that at least some Spanish is in the book, as I’m sure that it makes sense that there is some French in the literary classics that I read. It is a shame that in the US we traditionally have failed to promote the learning of a second language. I think being bilingual or, even better, multilingual, is a gift. It makes us more well-rounded, we can converse with a greater number of people, and . . .  when we read a book that throws in the occasional foreign language phrase, we might be able to understand it.

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