By Isse Ali

Language has power. The access of language can lead you to have different lives. My native tongue is Somali. At first, English felt like bricks on my tongue. It was so hard to speak. Things came out clunky and wrong. It made me feel separated. I had one history, one language, one life. English introduced me to a whole new world. People assume that is a good thing. It is neither all good or bad.

It is good because you have more ability to communicate with people around you. However, it is bad because it separates you from keeping your native tongue and culture. Unless, you have had this experience, you do not know the cost for people immigrating to the United States, where every white people shout, “Speak English!”

The power that language holds, speaking two different languages makes me feel like I have two different ways to express myself  When I’m speaking somali I feel like I can explain how I feel and express my thoughts in thousands of ways. I become fluent in English when I am at school or around my friends and fluent in Somali when i’m with my family. Slipping into Somali at home with family is comfortable. It feels warm and familiar. When at school, people sometimes ask me to speak Somali. However, I am unable to. It is not that I am ashamed, it is more that Somali is reserved for me and my family. It is part of our connection and intimacy as one. It feels like I might break that bond by sharing randomly.

English has become useful as a tool for working with others and reading signs in order to travel around the city independently.  Speaking two languages has opened up more opportunities. You’re able to communicate and translate for others on the street who speak the same language and never got the chance to learn English. Being bilingual also gives me the ability to think of certain situations In a unique way. When I’m given complicated instructions in class, I have a few ways to think about doing the assignment. Before, this might have frustrated me or left me feeling stuck. However, now I have different ways of viewing things and processing.

There is science that shows bilingual students are actually smarter because of the ways our brains think. Most people do not see those unique talents as special but I do. It is important for me to continue to embrace my languages. I am not ashamed of my Somali tongue. It is beautiful and has power.

My biggest fear is to lose my native tongue. This means I save it and practice it’s magic with my loved ones. Likewise, I have learned to embrace my English tongue to help me increase my independence here in the United States.  I also have the ability to empathize with people who are capable of learning multiple languages. I have a better understanding of their unique struggles and strengths. I do not have to be threatened by their native tongues. I know that being bilingual can make life more open.