English language learning unlocks a bilingual perspective

Charleen Darra, Photographer

Speaking another language is a huge brag-
ging right on my part, especially since not a

lot of people speak more than one language.
Though even though it is cool to be bilingual,
many hardships come along the way.
When I tell people that English is not my
first language, they are surprised.Growing

up, speaking my primary language, Pinge-
lapese, a language spoken in the island of

Federated States of Micronesia, was easy
especially since that’s what I knew. I speak a
language that not a lot of people know, only
one percent of the world even know where

Pingelapese is spoken. When I speak Pinge-
lapese with my cousins and people overhear,

they always ask, “ which language is that’’ or
“What is that gibberish?” So it’s always nice
to be speaking another language that not
many people know so that they won’t suspect
what I am saying.
As I aged, I started learning English, which
was even harder for me because I was not
so used to it. The first time I spoke English
when I was seven, it was hard. I was nowhere
near being able to speak it fluently until I
practiced and practiced and finally got it
down. It was hard since there was loads of
information coming at me and it was difficult

for me to keep up.
I’ve been speaking English now for more
than nine years and I’ve gotten better, but it
feels like the more I am into this American

culture the farther I am from my primary cul-
ture. Even though speaking not only one but

two languages can be a lifetime struggle, it
can come with good surprises. For example,
when I am really mad at someone and I want
to take my anger out on them. I speak in
Pingelapese because not a lot of people know
how to speak Pingelapese.
On the other hand, being a bilingual

student can also be challenging. It can be dif-
ficult to switch between languages, especially

in school or at home, where one language
may be preferred over another. Switching
between languages can be confusing and
difficult. It can be a struggle to achieve full
literacy in both languages. I’ve been speaking
one language over the other all the time. Now
it’s been harder to even remember the other
I was seven years old when I came to
the US. I was young and dumb, so I really
didn’t understand that much. I was trying my
hardest to keep up with the other students.
Not only did I have to speak in English but
I also had to write and read in English. My
elementary school had enrolled me in ELL, a
program where teachers help students whose
first language is not English get to know the
English grammar. While I was in that class, I

still struggled with my English but my teach-
ers told me that I was doing better than other

students. Then, fifth grade came around and
students in my ELL class were telling me that
I was going to pass, but I didn’t believe that
rumor because, to me, I was not doing that
well, but that rumor turned out to be true
and I left ELL. It felt nice to be leaving ELL,
but I also felt that I needed more help and

there was more to English than reading, writ-
ing, or speaking.

When speaking a sentence with friends or
family, I switch between both languages and
while switching, my mind is racing trying to
find perfect words to put into the sentence.

When I finally figure out which word to use,
the words that come out of my mouth turn

into gibberish. Sometimes I can’t remem-
ber easy words even with simple words like

shirt or pencil are hard to remember since in
both languages they are different. The words
don’t come at the right time, especially when
speaking to my parents, I need to figure out
which language to use. It’s like I want to use
my primary language, Pingelapese but it’s just

more difficult since I’ve been speaking Eng-
lish for half of my life now. It’s even harder

when I am trying to translate expressions
that aren’t used in other languages. I can’t
speak both English and Pingelapese properly.
I have to speak with hesitation. I always
have to ask people, “how do you say this in
English,” or “ how would you put this into a
I am on my way to being trilingual now
if I continue to practice German. I am still
struggling with just two languages. Imagine
if I add in one more. It’s going to be even
harder to find which word to use or how do I
say this without it sounding like that. It’s cool
to speak many languages until you find out
that you can’t talk right in either language. It
takes a second or even a minute to find the
right words. I know this word in Pingelapese,
but I don’t know the same word in English.
Talk about having a real struggle.
My perspective changes a lot when I am
speaking in English vs. when I am speaking
in Pingelapese. When I first started speaking
English, it wasn’t just a new language that I
was going to be learning for the rest of my
life, but it felt like a whole other part of my
brain just unlocked. It’s a whole new level of

experiencing things outside my own perspec-
tive. In a weird way, when I am speaking in

English I feel like a new person.
Not only did my perspective open up
when I spoke another language but also my
vocabulary started getting bigger. I think
that is the problem with speaking another
language, everything just expands because
languages not only contain words but they
contain thoughts and emotions.