Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Classroom Spanish vs. Home Spanish

by Abigail Garcia

At NYU, there are over 65 cultural groups listed on the Center for Student Activities, Leadership, and Service website. From the list one can see the numerous student organizations such as the Afghan Students Association, Bella Quisqueya, Caribbean Students Association,  Korean Student Association, Polish Club, Russian Club, Iranian Jewish Club and the Native American Club. Along with cultural clubs, there are academic clubs; arts, performance and media clubs; community service clubs; computers and technology club; debate and speech clubs; Greek life; LGBTQ clubs; literary/publication clubs; political, public policy, and Activist clubs; professional Clubs; recreational Clubs, religious and spiritual clubs, social Clubs, and the Student government clubs. When one browses through the clubs, one can see that even those clubs that are not designated as official “cultural” clubs, have cultural components! For example, Academic clubs, such as the South Asian Studies Program Initiative and the Jewish Student Association in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies have a cultural aspect to them. Along with the clubs, NYU's  Greek Life has the Multicultural Greek Councils which, according to the website, serve “as the governing body for our historically Latino(a)/Hispanic and Asian based fraternities and sororities at NYU.”

Can you see the pattern?
From the amount of clubs at NYU, one can see that NYU students are attracted to clubs that can culturally relate to them.In these cultural groups, students are allowed to act and speak the same way they do at home. There is a common understanding within the people in the group which allows the members to be free of the fear that someone is going to correct or punish them for using words or phrases that would be "wrong" in other social situations. 

In Urciuoli’s piece titled “Whose Spanish? The tension between linguistic correctness and cultural identity”, she studies the tension seen between the Spanish spoken at home and the Spanish students encounter when they enter a college classroom. Since language is closely linked to one’s culture, it is important to see how encountering a different form of “standard” Spanish affects their identity.

When explaining what happens to Spanish speaking immigrants in this country, Urciouoli used the term "chiquitafication."Chiquitafication occurs when a person’s Spanish becomes trivialized. “Trivialization” is when someone’s language is looked at with little worth or importance. This is very similar to when a person does not speak “monoglout standard English, a form of English routinely taken by Americans as naturally acquired and ideally free of foreign or regional ‘impurities’ such as accents” (Urciouoli 3). In other words, if someone has an accent or shows hints that they are not “authentic” Americans, they are looked down on.

In Urciouoli’s piece it was very interesting to read that acquiring Standard English is an immigrant’s “moral imperative” in achieving the “American Dream” (Urciouli 3). In terms of language, it seems like the only way to achieve the American Dream is to erase the fact that they are from a different country or part of the world that does not live up to the standards of those in America. In situations like these, immigrants struggle with their cultural identity and those identities they are forced to imitate in order to show the rest of the world that they want to be considered American. 

 So what happens when you go to college and your language is questioned? 

In her paper, Urciouli focuses on a group of urban Dominican and Puerto Rican students who move from an “pre-college experiences of Spanish and English…shaped by life in urban working class neighborhoods and that they have come to a rural liberal arts college in which their encounters with Spanish are often saturated by literary correctness and their experiences with English are saturated by middle-class or elite American whiteness” (Urciolui 6). In other words, major culture shock!  Imagine coming from an environment where the way you speak Spanish is correct and then going to another environment where non-heritage speakers are correcting the Spanish that has shaped your life, your culture, and who you are.
Many people may not see the problem with having someone correct you to speaking the standard Spanish, but it coud be quite insulting. How can you say the Spanish that someone was raised with be wrong?

In the video postings below, one can see how Spanish speaking Dominicans use their language when greeting someone and how Spanish is used in the work place: 

In these two videos, we can compare the "marked" Spanish from the Dominican Republic, with "standard" Spanish from Spain. 

What’s the big deal with standardized Spanish?
The problem with standardized Spanish is that Spanish that is not spoken in the "standard" way is not considered real or valid Spanish. Why can one type of Spanish be better than the other? Who has the authority to say so?

Urciouoli's usage of Richard showed a great example of the Spanish used at home and the Spanish used in the classroom: "I actually knew a decent amount of Spanish from my mom. The minute I went to what was it, seventh or eighth grade Spanish? To be honest I failed Spanish. That doesn’t have to go on this record does it? (Laughs) And it wasn’t that it didn’t make sense because I’d write these papers and I’d show them to my mom and she’d say oh yeah, that’s fine. And I’d show it to my teacher and there’s red ink everywhere” (Urciuloi 14). In Richard’s example, we can see the how “marked” Spanish did not fit in a classroom. If Richard went to NYU, he would take a course called  Spanish for Spanish Speakers which is “designed for heritage students who understand spoken Spanish but need to develop their speaking, reading, and writing skills. This course serves as a formal introduction to Spanish grammar. In addition to grammar and vocabulary review, this course incorporates cultural and literary readings in Spanish to develop written and oral communication skills.” If one notices the description, one can see the word “formal”. “Formal” can throw people off because the Spanish at home may be the only Spanish they know. When a couple of my friends took this course, they were taught by a professor from Spain who would often correct them if they were to insert some sort of slang or phrase used at home instead of the proper way.
It was interesting to her my friends' feedback on the class because many of them thought of it as a positive experiences, like Urcoli says in her article “ For some students, the academic study  of Spanish provides a therapeutic, by virtue of its correctness, and by virtue of its generic quality unliked to a specific class-marked background. “  I believe that learning the “generic” Spanish  is a great way to approach one’s language. In today’s society, there are so many different kinds of Spanish that one is faced with everyday! In one part of town, there is the Mexican Spanish, in another part, there is Dominican Spanish, and in another part there is Bolivian Spanish! Knowing one generic or “proper” way of speaking Spanish can help in various ways.
The other students who disliked the class complained about their culture is being taken away when they speak the “standardized” Spanish. I think differently. 

When students go to college, they are going to an institution where they pay to learn things that have shaped  society for years! A university teaches "standard" things. Everyone needs to write a certain way, talk a certain way, and act a certain way in order to be accepted. In Spanish class, there is no difference. "Standard" Spanish has been taught that way for many years. According to the university and society there is a right way of talking and a wrong way of talking. 

In order to overcome these different ideals, Spanish Speaking Students must learn to balance out both types of Spanish. That is why finding a cultural club is important in one's college career. It is the place where the student can  be comfortable and have the opportunity to express themselves in ways that are familiar to them. In the classroom, they must assimilate to the "proper" Spanish in order to fit in with the ideals in the college, but when out at a social event, they can be themselves. Even though the balancing act may be difficult, it is extremely rewarding to have the flexibility of  alternating from "standardized"/academic  Spanish and the Spanish used at home. 

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