“The bittersweet discovery that language, and the stories it carries, is not a straight path.” N. Sylvester, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: The Beauty of Being Bilingual, Natalia Sylvester, The New York Times
“My parents refused to let my sister and me forget how to speak Spanish by pretending they didn’t understand when we spoke English. Spanish was the only language we were allowed to speak in our one-bedroom apartment in Miami in the late 1980s.
We both graduated from English as a second language lessons in record time as kindergartners and first graders, and we longed to play and talk and live in English as if it were a shiny new toy…I’m most thankful that I can speak Spanish because it has allowed me to help others.
There was the young mother who wanted to know whether she could leave a cumbersome diaper bin aside at the register at Goodwill while she shopped. The cashier shook her head dismissively and said she didn’t understand. It wasn’t difficult to read the woman’s gestures — she was struggling to push her baby’s carriage while lugging the large box around the store. Even after I told the cashier what the woman was saying, her irritation was palpable. The air of judgment is one I’ve come to recognize: How dare this woman not speak English…”I don’t understand,’ she kept saying, though the mother’s gestures transcended language.
I choose not to understand is what she really meant…If you go back one generation, you’ll hear stories of people like my in-laws, whose teachers in Florida beat them for speaking in school the language they spoke at home.
Go back yet another generation and you’ll hear of the state-sanctioned racial terror inflicted on residents of Mexican descent in Texas in the late 1800s and early 1900s…Those whose parents tried to shield them from discrimination by not passing it on are often expected to be fluent in a language they never had the chance to forget.
Those of us who managed to hold on to it, despite the pressures to assimilate, know that our imperfect Spanish is a privilege we are often shamed for both inside and outside of our communities. And those of us who speak only Spanish are too often dismissed and worse, targeted — by women pushing shopping carts, by ICE raids, by gunmen with anti-immigrant manifestoes.
Their terror makes victims of us all…How do you translate fear to those you cannot trust? At a Costco Tire Center in Texas this week, a woman asked the man who had just helped me whether he spoke Spanish. He answered no, flatly… I volunteered to interpret. I found myself interpreting her words verbatim, forgetting to switch from the first person to the third…In her face I saw my friends, my mother, my grandmother and me, each of us with different degrees of Spanish and English, all rooted in a desire to feel accepted and understood.”
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Those of us who grew up bilingual understand the complexities of embracing either language.
- My parents pretended that they didn’t understand English.
- My mother feigned confusion anytime we slipped into English.
- I would let out exasperated sighs.
- She interrupted us to correct our grammar in Spanish.
- One day you’ll thank me, my mother retorted.
- The cashier shook her head dismissively and said she didn’t understand
- I found myself interpreting her words verbatim.
- The Latina woman was struggling and needed someone to interpret for her.
- “I don’t understand,” she kept saying, though the mother’s gestures transcended language.
Grammar Focus: Identifying Prepositions
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.
Some Prepositions: at, as, across, around ,by, during, for, from, in, into, of, on, to, over, off, through, up, with,
My parents refused___let my sister and me forget how___speak Spanish.
Spanish was the only language we were allowed ___ speak____our one-bedroom apartment ___Miami ___the late 1980s.
___kindergartners and first graders we longed ___play and talk and live___ English.
We would let out exasperated sighs ___having ___repeat ourselves ___Spanish.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
Those of us who’ve served as ___in everyday life know it’s a ___privilege.
You find ___in the in-between spaces of ___ but never the right ___to ___ them.
You hear the___of someone being ___in your voice, and the sound of someone being unseen in the ___.
WORD LIST: silence, language, express, heard, sound , interpreters, bittersweet, words, truths,
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Are you bilingual? If yes what languages do you speak?
- In your experience, is being bilingual a good thing or not?
- the author begins by stating, “My parents refused to let my sister and me forget how to speak Spanish by pretending they didn’t understand when we spoke English. Spanish was the only language we were allowed to speak in our one-bedroom apartment in Miami in the late 1980s.” Why did her parents forbid them to speak English at home? Did your parents do the same or did you grow up speaking both English and your native language?
- In her encounter with a cashier, the author states, “The air of judgment is one I’ve come to recognize: How dare this woman not speak English, how dare this other woman speak both English and Spanish.” Have you ever encountered people who were jealous of the fact that you are bilingual?
- Do you help others with English translation? Describe a situation when someone was grateful that you were there to help them.
- In general, do you feel that people here in the U.S treat you differently because you’re bilingual?
- Should people who come to live in the U.S. learn English? Why?
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.