Private vs. Public Language

You see them in the halls and understand the mindset of cliques and the way cities quickly divide up into ghettos by nationality. Este vato! No’mbre hue! No manches hue! Que onda? The phrases fly back and forth as fast as the teenage hormones. Newcomers separate into cliques with other Spanish-speakers, partly out of fear that another student will make fun of them in English. The few students who speak solely English keep to themselves as well, strangers here in a border school. But when the bell rings, they are all thrust into my English class for 50 minutes, and I need to make it work.

“Speaking Spanish in an English class is like using a baseball bat at soccer practice.” The nods from my soccer players give me all the impetus I need. “I am not a hater, but I don’t want to cheat you. The state tests you in English, I test you in English, so I would be remiss if I allowed you to speak Spanish within these walls, other than for direct translation.”

Private language meets public language meets a freckled outsider from Pennsylvania. I know it is hard, will be extraordinarily difficult for some of these students to achieve fluency, but it is still my job to try.

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