The Road to Learning English: a Study of Comparisons and Contrasts
Gloria Anzaldua (“How To Tame a Wild Tongue”) and Richard Rodriguez (“Aria”) have written powerful, painful, and very personal stories about their attempts to fit into American society while being taught a language that is not of their ancestors. There are significant differences in the tone of the each reading and the feelings evoked.The methods used by each writer to describe specific points (Anzaldua, with force and anger; Rodriguez, with a resigned acceptance that only thinly veils his sadness throughout the transition), and their ability to describe situations in a way that leaves little room for doubt as to their feelings during each experience, make it both easy and difficult for the reader to identify with them.
Although both authors wrote about their experiences while learning English as their second and eventually primary language, their journeys had little in common. Rodriguez and Anzaldua are both of Spanish descent. However, while Anzaldua refers to herself as Chicano (Mexican American), describing in great detail the challenges of learning yet another acceptable way to communicate, (“for people who live in a country in which English is the reining tongue but who are not Anglo,”)(56) the Rodriguez’ family were immigrants.Rodriguez does not specify when the family moved to the United States, although he does mention that as a first grade student his initial difficulties in learning English were shared by his two older siblings as well. His recollection of a visit to his parents by three nuns from their school, “Do your children speak only Spanish at home, Mrs. Rodriguez? ” “That Richard especially seems so timid and shy,” (10-11) would indicate that the move was fairly recent.
Both author’s parents used some form of Spanish to communicate in the home but were anxious that their children learn English.While Rodriguez’ parents were especially concerned with wanting their children to fit in with their American peers at school, Anzaldua’s mother voiced a particular concern that her daughter’s accented English could hinder her ability to obtain good employment and her education would be wasted. Both Anzaldua and Rodriguez experienced a roller coaster ride of feelings while letting go of the familiar sounds of the languages that connected them to family and friends who shared their ancestry. Rodriguez, at first, seems to have taken the path of least resistance, resigning himself to the nevitable eventuality of embracing the language that would make it possible for him to communicate more fully outside of his home. However, the trek toward a greater understanding and knowledge of English also separated him from the two people he depended on to provide safety, security and the comfort of familiarity when he returned home each day¬-his parents.
He came upon his parents speaking Spanish one day, only to have them immediately switch to English when they saw him “Those gringo sounds they uttered startled me. Pushed me away. (11) His pain, that is palpable in those words, gradually turned to anger. Anzaldua, on the other hand fought every step of the way, making hers a constant uphill climb. Not only was she struggling to find her place in American society as a Chicano, she was also battling for acceptance as a woman equal to men.
She states that the first time she heard two Spanish-speaking women use the word nosotras, (feminine “we”) “…I was shocked. I had not known the word existed. Chicanas use nosotros [male "we”] whether we’re male or female. We are robbed of our female being by the masculine plural. (55) Anzaldua’s anger mounts with every step she takes.
Beneath the anger however, hovers an emotion that is not as easy to identify as the sadness that permeates Rodriguez words. There is a sense of unease, a lack of self-confidence. Each time she punctuates a sentence with purposely un-translated Spanish she drives home the point of the uncomfortable position that she was forced to live in day after day. Although both Anzaldua and Rodriguez successfully achieved their goals of mastering the English language, each also experienced unexpected awakenings along the way.For Rodriguez, gaining a new language meant the loss of something he could never regain-youthful innocence. Anzaldua gained a new respect for her own ethnic and linguistic identity by refusing to completely relinquish the other dialects she used in her every day communications, and simply adding English to the mix.
The authors, who started out on the same road to learning, weathered the highs and lows, potholes and pitfalls of uncharted territory. In the end they found their way, traveling through a maze of words that would eventually put them on the path to personal success.