Learning Spanish and maintaining our cultural heritage

In 1993 I had just returned from a year in Japan, where I taught English to sophomores and juniors as a post-graduate fellow at Kyoto's Doshisha University. Upon returning to Miami, I knew that I wanted to continue teaching, and I soon found a job teaching four levels of Japanese ...and one class of Spanish level 1 for Spanish Speakers. Having been born in Nicaragua, I figured teaching Spanish would be a piece of cake, while my Japanese classes would be a challenge.

After the first day of class, however, I realized I was way in over my head...with my Spanish class! How could this be? Shouldn't a native speaker be the ideal teacher for this course?

About a week later, I begged my department chair to let me teach Spanish 1 for non-speakers -- I could explain the difference between ser and estar much better than I could explain accent rules in Spanish.

When I was 9 years old, my family left Nicaragua, and what was to be a short vacation to the United States quickly turned into a new life with the challenges of a new culture, a new school, new friends and, above all, a new language. I was lucky enough to have the support of friends and family, and my assimilation to the United States went relatively well.

My parents divorced when I was a teen, and shortly thereafter my mother, my brother and I gradually went from speaking to each other in Spanish at home to speaking to each other only in English.

My father, on the other hand, always insisted we speak to him in Spanish, despite the fact that the more time I spent in the United States, the less cooperative my tongue became.