How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More on the languages we don't speak - but are presumed to

Photo by Florian SEROUSSI/Flickr (Creative Commons)


A couple of posts this week have explored the awkward moments when people are presumed to speak (or not speak) a certain language because of how they look, whether they be children of immigrants who don't speak their parents' native tongue, light-skinned Latinos mistaken for non-Latino whites, Filipinos mistaken for Latinos or any other linguistic mistaken-identity case.

The most recent post featured two readers' personal anecdotes and drew a couple of additional comments, including this one from Sylvia Cabus:

I’ve been mistaken for many nationalities, even Brazilian-Japanese, but fellow Filipinos don’t believe I’m from the Philippines.

The language problem is complicated as well because I speak Visayan, not Tagalog, and my Moroccan husband (who looks Latino) and I speak French at home.

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When you're expected to speak a language you don't - or vice versa

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A short post yesterday highlighted a recent essay from a writer who is part Filipina and part German-Irish, but is often presumed to be Latina - and therefore, to speak Spanish. Only that she can't.

Spanish makes her nervous "because I can’t speak it, and I look like I should," author Sabina Murray wrote on The Nervous Breakdown website. "If you speak to me in Spanish, it feels like an invitation to something great that, unfortunately, I can’t accept."

As expected, the post resonated with readers who posted comments about their own experiences with the languages people expect them to speak - or not - based on how they look.

The "or not" is a biggie, too. Take it from yours truly, a native Spanish-speaking Latina who is all too often asked "How did you learn to speak Spanish so well?"

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Pik-sa, pisa or pizza?

Photo by Mr. Ducke/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pizza (or pik-sa, or pisa) con jalapeños, May 2009

A reader responding to a recent collection of awkward language moments experienced by English learners, or people who were raised by them, has shared a good one: "pik-sa," better known as pizza.

Edith Padilla wrote:

I cannot seem to shake my habit of saying “pik-sa” instead of “pit-za.” I don’t make that mistake with the word mozzarella but pizza is a whole different story.

I've heard that one among Latinos, as well as "pisa," like in the leaning tower of Pisa or the Spanish verb "pisar," meaning to step or tread on. I visited my parents last weekend and shared a "pisa" with them for lunch. A Hawaiian pisa with barbecued chicken, which was quite tasty.

Have an ESL moment to share? Feel free to post anecdotes below.

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Five awkward language moments

Photo by Visentico/Sento/Flickr (Creative Commons)


In a post earlier this week, I described what can best be called being haunted by the ESL ghost. I learned English in kindergarten and have no discernible accent, no trace of my native Spanish in my otherwise very American-sounding speech.

But growing up in a family of immigrant English learners, I picked up many of the mispronunciations that are common to those who learn English as a second language, and some of these dog me to this day.

In the post I shared a couple of awkward language moments, like times I've mispronounced colander as "co-LAN-der" and my tendency to call a skiing balaclava a "ba-CLA-va," which sounds a bit like one of my favorite pastries.

Since then, readers have responded by sharing some of their own ESL moments. Here are a few, edited slightly for typos:

Rogelio Gómez Hernández wrote:

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El code-switching es normal, experts say

guys talking

Photo by polandeze/Flickr (Creative Commons)


A street conversation in August 2007, languages unspecified.


This afternoon I happened to catch a re-tweet of an interesting post that SpanglishBaby, a website dedicated to bilingual parenting, published a couple of months ago on code-switching. For those who don't call it code-switching, it's that thing that bilingual types, i.e. people like me, do when we're having a conversation, say, with our mother or our cousin or a close comadre or compadre in English, then inexplicably switch to our native language, then switch back.

For bilinguals, code-switching is business as usual. For monolinguals who overhear us as we're jabbering into our cell phones in the produce section at Whole Foods, asking "Should I get the organic fruta bomba?" of the person at the other end, it can be infuriating.

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