General Question

Carinaponcho's avatar

Am I bilingual?

Asked by Carinaponcho (1369 points ) January 30th, 2013 from iPhone

Spanish was my first language. When I was young, I learned Spanish before English. However my knowledge of Spanish slowly diminished as I grew up in a primarily English speaking household and attending English speaking schools. I still have the ability to carry out a conversation with a Spanish speaker, while my vocabulary and grammar skills are limited. When spoken to, I understand the language much more easily than I can create responses.
Would my knowledge of Spanish be enough to qualify myself as bilingual on college applications? If I do say that I am bilingual, will the colleges evaluate my language skills in any way?

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23 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Can you watch a movie with Spanish speaking actors and understand all of the dialog without subtitles?

Can you hold your own in a normal, rapid-fire conversation?

The ability to speak, understand and read as comfortably in one language as the other would be my definition of being bi-lingual.

Could you regain the missing skills without too much difficultly if you wanted to?

Carinaponcho's avatar

I can understand most of the movie. (Enough to follow the main plot) I would probably not talk much in a conversation in English let alone Spanish because I’m very shy. I am by far more comfortable speaking in English.

gailcalled's avatar

Then you are not bi-lingual. However, you can describe your Spanish skills as you have here; just be accurate.

If you were dropped into a small town where everyone spoke only Spanish and no English, how long do you guess it would take for you to be really comfortable? You certainly have a leg up on most people who want to master a second language.

I see from an earlier question that you are only a sophomore in high school. Why not take as many Spanish classes as your school offers and see how quickly you advance? (Make sure that the teacher is a native speaker, however.)

RockerChick14's avatar

I think you are.

Carinaponcho's avatar

I am actually taking a Spanish class in school and I have a 91% average.

gailcalled's avatar

Are you being brave enough to speak up?

Carinaponcho's avatar

I’m my class, there isn’t very much room for class participation.

gailcalled's avatar

@Carinaponcho : Any good foreign language teacher should insist on class participation. If your’s is not, s/he is not doing his or her job. Can you talk to a dean or your adviser about this issue?

bookish1's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.
If you say you can understand enough of the movie to follow the plot, and your grammar and vocabulary are currently limited, it does not sound to me like you are truly bilingual. At best, you could say you have advanced understanding of spoken Spanish.

Keep doing the best you can to participate when possible in your Spanish class. Join a Spanish club if possible, or do a volunteer activity where you will encounter native speakers. If you spoke it as a child, it should be reactivated in your brain with enough immersion.

@gailcalled just made a very good point about your teacher. What are you doing in class if not being encouraged to formulate Spanish? Just doing drills? You and your classmates definitely deserve better.

gailcalled's avatar

I vote also for finding somewhere outside of your class to work on your skills.

cazzie's avatar

@Carinaponcho After 10 years of living in a foreign country, I don’t think of myself as bilingual, really, because I don’t know if I would enjoy reading Ibsen in his native language. I refer to myself as speaking Norwegian as a second language. I hold down a job, quite successfully now, where I need to speak, read and understand when spoken to, the language with both children and adults. If you are so close in your understanding with Spanish, I would say, play it down for a college application, but go for it when it comes to opportunities to speak and learn more. Just go for it. Find places you can totally submerge yourself in it and it will come to you.

My son is truly bilingual. He can switch back and forth between languages and be completely fluent without missing a beat and, while he has a sort of odd accent when he speaks English, you wouldn’t think he grew up in a foreign country is you started speaking English with him.

Just so you know, I only had less than a school year of the language formally. After that, I got a cleaning job with a group of GREAT Norwegian ladies who spoke in their native dialects, which was completely different to what I was learning in class, btw, but they helped me so much with my confidence and listening skills. After a year, I had to quit the cleaning job to have my son, but then, to get out into the world, I started a business where I was involved with a group of ladies with a retail store selling our crafts, and again, I had to speak and write the language. Children’s TV helped a lot. That may sound stupid, but I was trying to understand the cartoons and also read children’s book in Norwegian to the kids. It all helped. I can still miss sections of conversation in a TV show if I misunderstand the first bit because of dialects (Norwegian is not a language, I swear. It is more like a lose mish-mash of quaint dialects people here are bent on using with no regard to actually being understood when they speak.) but I am told that even native speakers have the same trouble with some dialects, so that worries me less and less.

If you are so close to being fluent with a second language and have such a good foundation, just go for it. Find a Salsa club with mostly all Spanish speaking members or a cooking class in Spanish. Don’t look for other people trying to learn Spanish. Look for groups of Spanish speakers who are happy to welcome members with Spanish as a second language. Perhaps that is where you are, still; Spanish as a second language.

Rarebear's avatar

You are bilingual. Congratulations.

Yeahright's avatar

I second @Rarebear.

Yes, you are bilingual according to your description of your linguistic behavior. However, do you have a native-like command of Spanish? No. With your present linguistic competence in Spanish, could you follow academic studies in Spanish? No. Will it be hard for you to get the basic competences to carry on studies in Spanish? No. It will be easier for you than for students who don’t have the background that you have in Spanish.

I think that the question of your college application is for statistical purposes and you will not be lying by stating that you are bilingual because you are not claiming you have a native-like command of Spanish.

Also, keep in mind that most people do not have the same level of competence in all four skills, be it your native language or a foreign language. So if you can speak but can’t write Spanish, you are bilingual. If you can’t read that well but can understand a conversation, you are bilingual.

I think you need to clarify your concept of what it means to be bilingual. For that, you need to read a bit on the subject.

The term itself is very difficult to define, even though at first glance it seems so simple: bi-lingual = use of two languages. However, the term has not only linguistic implications, but also political, social, cognitive, psychological, etc. There are different forms of bilingualism and usually one language tends to become the dominant language with the other in the subordinate role.

The popular view would tell you that a bilingual person speaks two languages perfectly, and in fact some authors share that opinion and define the concept of a perfect bilingual as one who has native-like control of two languages. Others, however, indicate that it implies the minimal competence in one of the four language skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) in a language other than his mother tongue, and there is a whole array of definitions in between

What you are specifically referring to falls in the category of Bilinguality or Individual bilingualism which is the psychological state of the individual that uses more than one language where the degree or level of proficiency will vary along a number of dimensions, namely emotional and cognitive.

In educational/academic terms (specific purposes for the language) you need to make sure that your linguistic structure and language skills are sufficient so that you can meet the communicative demands of academic settings.

antimatter's avatar

I think a person that can speak more than one language is bilingual…

Yeahright's avatar

@antimatter A lot of people think so, but keep in mind that there are four skills and speaking is only one of them. Mastering the other three requires knowledge of the other language as well. For instance, speaking alone will not qualify you to study in the foreign language, nor to communicate via email, SMS, or read and access information in the other language just to name a few.

Carinaponcho's avatar

I can understand reading in Spanish very easily, except if there is a word I don’t understand. Except I can usually use context clues to figure out the general idea of the sentence.

Yeahright's avatar

@Carinaponcho Exactly. But that doesn’t mean you are not bilingual. Coming across words that we don’t understand happens all the time in our native language, and it is obvious you are using the right strategy to overcome the problem by guessing the word from context.

A ver si entiendes esto. Lo que yo estaba tratando de decir antes es que el hecho de ser bilingüe es un estado psicológico a la vez que linguístico. No debes pensar que para poder considerate bilingüe debes tener un manejo perfecto del idioma, ni dominar todos los aspectos a la perfección. Antes que nada, debes ponerte en un estado mental bilingüe y auténtica y profundamente creértelo tu misma para que así puedas con toda seguridad representarlo ante los demás. Si no entiendes algo me avisas o me lo mandas por mensaje privado. Saludos :)

Carinaponcho's avatar

¡Yo entiendo!

Yeahright's avatar

Biennnnnn!!!! Ves? Así de fácil…eres bilingüe y ya! :)
Me cuentas cómo te va con lo de la solicitud de la universidad.

zensky's avatar

I vote si as well.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)

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