Even for young children, moving to a new country where the language and the culture are different from what they know can be a challenge. Here is a story of a university graduate and Spanish translator who has made the best of her assimilation and of her bicultural and bilingual existence as a Peruvian-cum-English.
by Nancy Carranza
Being able to speak two popular languages is a blessing but it didn’t come easy. Arriving to London from Peru in 1994 at the age of 6 gave me an advantage as it is said, ‘children are quick learners’. Starting primary school after a month of being in the country felt like I was being thrown into a parallel universe full of children who not only spoke English but many other languages which I didn’t understand. Was I still on Earth? Did I move to a parallel Universe? Later realising that London would turn out to be one of the world’s most multicultural cities.
Being separated from the children at playtime to learn a new language was not exactly my idea of ‘playtime’ but it was all for the best. My Primary School had the best Foreign Language Program which would help more kids like me, fit in, not only to the school but to the English Culture. Boys and girls would be involved in the same activities such as ‘cooking’ and building things with ‘meccano’, a model construction system were you could build cars, trucks out of metal strips. It was interesting to see, as in Peru, boys had separate activities from girls. In Peru, the boys would play sports at playtime while the girls would play with dolls and doll houses. It was a different mentality all together!
Education was very different here. In Peru, we started in kindergarten, which is equivalent to nursery in this country. Only difference was that in Peru you would have to know you’re A, B, C’s and how to count to 10 before starting kindergarten. During the year you would have to learn how to read and write, all just at the age of 3! So when starting primary school in this country, I was glad I knew the basics which made learning English a bit easier, as I just had to learn the language and not learn to read or write.
Throughout the years I have learnt many things. The way boys speak different from girls. This is due to language and culture constantly developing in order to differentiate male and female attributes. According to society, if you’re female, you can wear make-up, dresses, and heels and are seen as speaking in a ‘delicate’ manner. However, if you’re a male then you should dress in a shirt, tie, and smart shoes and speak in a ‘deep’ voice. Of course people have different views and opinions on what a male/female is. But as society is evolving, so are these views.
Learning the English language has been a huge advantage in life, not only because I could finally understand what other people were talking to me about! But it has opened so many doors throughout life. Attended good schools with good education where it enabled me to learn more about the English culture as well as receiving job offers based on the languages that I spoke. At certain job interviews they would ask me to speak Spanish (depending on the job). Not a bad skill to have!
As I have mentioned, culture is a big part of London and as a whole it is defined in 3 categories according to Brian Longhurst; the arts such as Shakespeare, a way of life and social development which I later came to find out at University. As the years gradually passed, the English culture became part of me. The music, the food, the clothes, the television programmes, everything! To think, when first arriving to London all I knew was how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
Although this was amazing, I didn’t want to forget where I came from which is why at the age of 14 I started making friends with Latin American people who I met in secondary school. People like me who had come to London at a very young age. I was now surrounded by people who initially spoke Spanish and had learnt English, just like me! This was great, as we all went to social events such as Latin Carnivals and concerts together. Being able to speak both languages was amazing because I could now be involved in two very different cultures and be comfortable in both of them.
Going back to Peru for family visits was always like a ‘teaching session’. Everyone in my family wanted me to teach them English. Should have charged them! I am grateful that my parents decided to move to London as throughout the years I have seen that there have been so many opportunities for me here. Visiting Peru every 3 years or so, shows me how much harder life would have been if I had stayed over there. Although the culture is beautiful with its traditional festivals, architecture, cuisine and amazing sights, unfortunately it is not a very wealthy country. People do struggle to live but get by how ever possible.
I know have a university degree in Social Sciences, a job in central London (where I meet people from all over the world every day) especially Spanish people whom I can help when they need it. I love to be able to speak both Spanish and English and interact with both cultures.
I have the best of both worlds!
Nancy Carranza 24 year old university graduate with an artistic background. She works in retail and for Translation Services 24 specialising in Spanish translations.
To read the translated Spanish version of this post, click here.