Two Languages, One World

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

I come from a culture where everything, from the language to the way one dances, is rhythmical. Everything flows freely in the mind, everything makes sense, and nothing is inhibited. I feel this sense of absolute free flow when I push the sole of my foot into the soft creamy-white carpet and turn on the music, to feel the lyrical sensation and soft rhythmical beat of Vallenato take over my body. I feel it especially when I open a book of Spanish literature, from the poems of Pablo Neruda to the magical reality of Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez.

When I entered the realm of English at age six, I felt the language as too rough, too stringent, filled with too many rules, with a comma here and a comma there. I thought that the literary, grammatical and syntactical rules of English inhibited the free flow of the mind. For me, English was like New York, with a perfect ninety degree angle between each street and avenue–too structural, while Spanish was like the streets of my native town of Medellin, Colombia, with a bunch of curves here and there, a kind of innate simplicity. Yet as the years progressed, I came to fully realize the importance of mixing these two languages and valuing diversity.

I remember my mom sitting on the living room couch when we had just moved in from Colombia. She had her untamed hair up in a bun and me upon her lap. We looked around the apartment. There was nothing, just white space. She had a weathered looking book full of poems beside her. She opened the book to a poem by Neruda, one accompanied by a picture of the calming sea, whose ripples kissed the sand. While I was transfixed on this picture, she recited the following words:

“Necesito del mar porque me enseña:

no sé si aprendo música o conciencia:

no sé si es ola sola o ser profundo…”

Although I didn’t understand the impact these words had at the time, the words were soothing in my seven year-old-heart. Her words were just like the waves of the sea, cascading from her mouth, coursing through me. Those words gave me a conciencia, a word that, when translated to English, I think, doesn’t carry the same emotion. The phrase with the closest meaning I can think of would be “an inner peace”. The reason I felt such inner peace was not only the way she recited the poem, but also the flow with which the Spanish phrases traveled to my ears. This was the way Neruda meant for them to be read. Spanish evokes vibrant human emotion: utter joy, excitement, and sincerity. Spanish is sustained by a flow of thought, and an understanding that everything is part of one vast existence.

English, on the other hand, with all of its structural elements, has forced me to accept that clarity is just as important as rhythm. It is just like math in the sense that it “shows” all of the steps. It is clear-cut and it makes sense. I think it doesn’t portray the natural flow of ideas as well as Spanish does; however, it does make one value the detail. It is that structure and detail that make me so vividly recall the war landscape in A Farewell to Arms and the gruesome death of Snowden in Catch-22, one of my favorite novels.

Each day I encounter both of these languages: Spanish at home and English at school. Each language compels me to put ideas in its own words. One day, I can sit in my chair and engulf myself in the world of English, reading books such as Miracles by C.S Lewis and discovering clarity about the existence of God. The next day, I can submerge my mind into the depths of Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez’s Cien Años de Soledad. I feel blessed to know and appreciate the qualities of both literatures, both languages.

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