Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Student Reflection: What Do Looks Have to Do with It? A lot.

Over the past couple of years I’ve begun to realize that being a blonde, very “European-American” looking girl makes it very difficult for Spanish speakers to take me seriously. The first day of tutoring I remember the looks on the students’ faces when I walked in. They all seemed almost shocked that someone like me could know Spanish. I got the same reactions from the Chileans when I studied abroad last spring in Santiago, Chile. People always assume that I do not understand any Spanish.

My boyfriend’s dad is from Chile and he runs a restaurant in Boston with an Argentine friend. It is an Argentine restaurant with a Chilean flare, so many Chileans eat there. One night when I was visiting, a group of Chileans and my boyfriend and I were sitting at a table together. My boyfriend’s dad’s friend would speak in Spanish to everyone at the table except when he spoke to me he would speak in English. Even after repeatedly telling him IN SPANISH that I understand Spanish, he still could not seem to bring himself to speak to me in his native tongue.

Another example is when I went to pick my boyfriend up at O’Hare a few weeks ago. When I found him, a Hispanic man was talking to him in Spanish asking if my boyfriend would help him find someone in the airport. I stood to the side waiting for them to finish and the man turns to me and tries to say, “So Sorry” in English. Immediately I assure him in Spanish that it is ok and I speak the language too. He almost looked confused when I spoke to him in Spanish, and that about did me in.

Because people find it hard to believe that I can speak Spanish, I think it makes me more timid to try to speak the language because of all the added pressure. It makes me want to speak flawless Spanish, which I know is not a realistic wish at this point in my life. However, aside from the frustration it can bring, it makes my desire to be fluent that much greater, which makes me work harder at learning the language.

I want the students at Leal to take me seriously as a Spanish-speaker despite my appearance. Hopefully as my Spanish skills improve, they and everyone in the Spanish-speaking world will accept me as a fellow member.


  1. This is such an honest reflection, Megan! I totally understand, and I understand what it can do to your confidence speaking Spanish. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I loved this reflection because it portrays the feelings of many people learning any language, when they are "categorized" according to their looks, and not their knowledge.

    The same way your "blond" look created these reactions regarding Spanish (she can't possibly understand 'everything' I say) occur to many Spanish/Latin American/Latino people when they speak in English.

    Very thoughtful post!