UT students combat native language loss

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Photo Credit: Rocky Higine | Daily Texan Staff

When Giselle Nevarez was in middle school, her family moved from Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso. Through attending classes and learning English, she began to adapt to a new culture. Years later, Nevarez now fears she is losing her native language of Spanish.

Nevarez, a biomedical engineering sophomore, isn’t alone in her fear. She, along with other multilingual students at UT, experience language attrition, where learning and using a second language often causes one to experience problems with their native language.

Language is a way to connect with her culture and history, which only fuels her fear of losing her Spanish, Nevarez said.

“How are you going to learn more about where you come from, where your family comes from, if you can’t talk to your grandma?” Nevarez said.

Nevarez said her fading Spanish affects her most when she tries to have intellectual conversations. While she does talk to her family frequently, words that are not usually part of their daily conversations slip her mind.

Aside from phone calls with her family, Nevarez said she also tries to refresh her Spanish by listening to Latin music and watching TV shows in Spanish. She said she has even been teaching some of her friends Spanish little by little.

“I’m teaching my friends Spanish. We have like five Spanish words of the day, and that helps me as well with vocabulary,” Nevarez said.

Like Nevarez, American studies junior Rémi Lacordelle also speaks Spanish. However, his first language is French. He grew up speaking and learning multiple languages and now knows five languages: French, English, Creole, Spanish and Russian.

“(Knowing five languages) allows me to be more grateful and more respectful of where I’m from and where others are from,” Lacordelle said.

Lacordelle is an exchange student from France and first began learning new languages in middle school. He said his experience being multilingual doesn’t cause him to fear losing his French but rather motivates him to strive to learn more languages.

At UT, Lacordelle said he has been able to practice his French by connecting with other French peers.

“Thankfully, in one of my classes, I have a French classmate, and I managed to find some other peers at Planet Longhorn, the international student organization,” Lacordelle said. “So I don’t really disconnect from my language.”

Public relations freshman Rocio Perez’s first language is Spanish. However, Perez said that since moving from Houston to Austin, she speaks more Spanish because of the group of friends she found at UT.

Back home, she said she primarily spoke Spanish with her parents. Perez said she has an appreciation for the language and is glad she found friends that she can share that with. Now, she said she still fears losing her Spanish but knows that by talking with her friends she’ll be able to keep practicing it.

“(My roots) are a big part of who I am and where I came from, and I don’t want to forget that,” Perez said.

Perez’s language and her Cuban culture is important to her, she said. She wants to stay connected to her culture through music, food and practicing her Spanish whenever possible.

“It’s my first language, so I shouldn’t treat it like it’s not,” Perez said.