Last week at the School of Social Work, I was asked to help babysit children while their mothers attended a seminar on depression. The children ranged in age from about a year to middle school age. The thing that I found most interesting during my volunteering last week was the way that the children communicated with me. The older middle school age students spoke strictly English when interacting with me and with each other. Although the students know Spanish because it is the primary language spoken at home, they feel more comfortable speaking English in settings outside their homes. The children in grade school tended to speak mainly in English, but if there was a word they didn’t know they would substitute the word in Spanish. For example, when I was playing with a little boy who liked cars he told me, “I want to have a carrera” because he did not know the word race in English. Finally, the very young children didn’t speak any language or had a limited knowledge of Spanish, since that is the primary language spoken at home and they have not yet attended school which is where they will learn English.
I found that I enjoyed speaking most with the middle school children because I could speak Spanish, but if the child couldn’t understand what I was saying there was always the option of saying the word in English. Also with the middle school children my use of language was more flexible. I could speak English or Spanish and the children would know what I was saying and feel comfortable responding in either language. The teenage children did not seem very willing to speak Spanish with me. The very young children were difficult to communicate with verbally. Since they were still learning to speak Spanish I had a hard time understanding what they wanted. For example, I asked one little boy if he wanted anything to eat, and since he was talking in a baby voice, he had to repeat that he had eaten a few time before I understood what he said. This phenomenon also happens with children that speak English, so I don’t think there was a communication barrier due to my level of Spanish. Although I at times didn’t understand what the very young children were saying, we managed to communicate through pointing and fragments of sentences. For example, the little girl would point at the eraser and I would say “quieres el borrador”? and she would say “sí” or “no”. Volunteering in the community is a method to help college students learn about people who speak Spanish in our community, as well as help develop our Spanish by practicing with native speakers; however in addition last week I learned about communication. I found that communication varies by age group. Also I learned that when dealing with younger children sometimes nonverbal communication is as important as verbal communication. Last week volunteering at my placement was a good experience because I had an opportunity to reflect on various modes of communication, which is something that I generally haven’t studied.