How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The case for living in two languages

Book cover of "Bilingual Is Better."

Bilingual Readers

Book cover of "Bilingual Is Better."

The coauthors of a new book titled "Bilingual is Better," Roxana A. Soto and Ana L. Flores, also happen to be the two bloggers and bicultural mamis behind Spanglish Baby, a go-to site for parents who are trying to raise bilingual children.

To call such an undertaking a struggle is an understatement. Public school English-as-a-second-language programs have given way to English immersion for non-native speakers, and schools offering dual-language immersion classes are very limited. Even if they are learning a second language, some children rebel and only want to speak English. There are naysayers. The list goes on.

But the research out there does point to how speaking a second language is good for you, benefiting the brain in numerous ways, and eventually the pocketbook as dual language skills can help boost one's career prospects. And there are no better cheerleaders for life in two languages than Soto and Flores, who grew up bilingual themselves and are now raising bilingual children, at least trying their best to.

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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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What is your most awkward language moment?

It's been well documented by now that growing up bilingual can be good for you. But getting there? Survivors of an English-learner upbringing can attest that it's not always an easy road, and that the bumps along it - some amusing, some awkward - continue well into adulthood.

I began learning English in kindergarten, learning it at the same time my immigrant parents did. Because I was so young, I quickly mastered the American accent, as did my immigrant peers. But one of the pitfalls of growing up in a household where everyone is learning English is that along the way, you pick up many of the mispronunciations common to English learners.

These mispronunciations vary depending on who is learning the language. For Spanish and Tagalog speakers, for example, the double "ee" of "sheep" is often pronounced like the "i" in "ship," and so forth. I got over the obvious mistakes fairly quickly.

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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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