Learning the Language

The following is commentary from our intern, Megan Young on a recent article posted by the University of Texas at Austin.  Please refer to the article here.

When I was younger, I always had a Spanish class in school. We didn’t really learn much Spanish though. The only thing I remember about Spanish class was making homemade tortillas and the only words I knew were hola, tortilla, adios, and queso. This doesn’t get you very far in the real world if you want to speak Spanish. I never really understood how much I liked learning Spanish until freshman year of high school. When I began to learn how to actually speak the language, it made me feel so accomplished to know two languages. I’ve taken Spanish for the past three years and sadly this year it couldn’t fit into my schedule. I miss learning about the culture and all of the different words and grammar to the language. I still get to use my Spanish language skills such as on mission trips and sometimes daily life, but not as much as I used to.

This past week, we came across an article called “Difference or Disorder,” which was about language disorders in bilingual children, and the question of rather it is a difference or a disorder. First of all, there is an experimental test called the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment or BESA, which distinguishes the difference between a child who needs speech therapy and has a disorder, or a child who just has a difference and is trying to learn two languages at once. This test is definitely helpful in trying to figure out this situation, but how do you know it’s always accurate? A child could possibly not be a good test taker, and seems like they have a disorder with the language. Another possibility could be that the child may not want to take the test and fails it on purpose. Even though it may not be completely accurate, it still does justice for the children who do have disorders and need help. It also saves a lot of time and money and fewer children are mistakenly prescribed to take speech therapy.

If a child is confused about what language to speak or even code mixes, which is “mixing elements of different languages into the same sentence,” it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disorder (UT at Austin). Even in my daily life, I tend to do this with my own friends. One of my best friends who loves Spanish always tends to say something to me in Spanish and I’ll always respond back in Spanish. The next second though, someone asks us a question or tells us something and we immediately switch back to English. I think that code mixing is definitely normal for a child learning two languages at once. Although, in the article they mention that there is a correct way to do this such as the grammar and how it has to be compatible within the sentence. “Take vowel and consonant sounds: English has 13 vowel sounds while Spanish has five, English has 26 consonant sounds while Spanish has 18.” This makes English sound even more complicated than Spanish! Personally, I actually think that the two languages have a lot in common.

Although, when I was learning Spanish my sophomore year, I had a really difficult time learning some of the grammar. My teacher would explain it to me and it would go straight over my head. I was taking a tougher level of the course but I didn’t think it would be that hard. I did great my first year and thought the second year would go just as well. When I was struggling, it stressed me out and I began to doubt my abilities when learning Spanish. I ended up doing okay for the rest of the year, but still didn’t understand it as much as I wanted to. I wanted to have a good grasp of the language for when I would go on mission trips and I spoke to the local people. The next year, I had a new teacher and was learning most of the same grammar again. When I began to focus more on what I didn’t understand, I started to gradually learn what I had been missing all along. I didn’t understand why all of this hadn’t made sense at first, but I did realize that it took me a year to finally understand it. I also needed help from someone to figure what I was doing wrong.

If a child with a speech language disorder is not diagnosed, then they could face a difficult situation. The child could struggle like I did, but instead it would be for the rest of his or her life. This test may not always be accurate, but when a child is diagnosed and helped immediately, they will be confident in their speaking skills for the rest of their life. Although, this test can save so much money, time, and help many children realize that they don’t have a disorder, but just a difference that can be fixed.

1 comment

1 Emmanuel Valdez { 03.02.11 at 6:40 am }

It is true. When a person learns more as one language at the same time has the risk to mix the languages or acquire a language disorder.
I know about one person that has learned Japanese, Spanish and English at the same time. The teachers in the school didn’t know what they should do, because the child couldn’t realize which language he wrote. That was just incredible.

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