Legal Practice

Beyond Identity: The Economic Importance of Knowing Spanish

Do you speak Spanish? I know there’s such an (unfair) assumption about our community’s language abilities and assume we should all have this skill. I happen to be fluent—actually Spanish is my first language, but I’ve never understood the backlash and weird arrogance some people display when they hear that other Latinas don’t know Spanish. Like stahp. Why do we add these barriers on top of each other?

In reality, I’m actually lucky to still know Spanish and have become stronger in my language skills only because of my job. However, there was a time that I forgot Spanish because I lived in a small town with no other Latinxs and my step-father, at the time, was very anti-Spanish (i.e. he was a racist lol). So when I picked the language back up again I also picked up a somewhat unfortunate pocha accent to go along with it.  It used to bother me, but I’m really happy I was able to reclaim my native tongue even if it means that no one can place where my Spanish is from.  So, here I am unequivocally stating that not knowing Spanish does not impact your Latinidad.

But when it comes to language skills, it goes beyond identity—I’m talking about money. Knowing Spanish (or any other marketable language) is a great way to increase your marketability and in many cases may be how you get your foot in the door for an interview.  It also opens you up to new markets, clients, and business opportunities. If you have a so-so grasp of Spanish and feel like you can grow this skill—then do it!

And even if you’re fluent, you can still improve. If you’re like me, you just learned Spanish at home and didn’t take a course in school or ever truly learn Spanish grammar (Big ups Microsoft for their accent autocorrect because accent marks are beyond my wheelhouse!). If you only know colloquial Spanish or struggle to write it, then you should especially consider making this skill stronger to make your employment prospects even better.

The way you keep this skill strong (or make it stronger) is to use it as much as you can. Language is really a use it or lose it skill.  When you’re trying to keep it fresh—seek out opportunities that let you use your skills even if it means acting as an interpreter. Gasp! I know, we want to be seen as lawyers not interpreters so this is a fine line, but I think if you’re new (especially if you’re a student) and are cautious to not let others abuse your skill then acting as an occasional interpreter is a good way to practice speaking Spanish in a professional environment with clients. When I interned as an undergrad at a public defender’s office, I was able to do way more than a regular undergrad because they really wanted to use my skills (not best practice, but it worked for me). Now that I’ve been practicing for a while, hell no I don’t act as anyone’s Spanish interpreter because the benefit for me would be basically non-existent—but if an opportunity to interpret in French appeared I may consider it because those skills are super rusty.

 

fullsizerender

If you don’t want to run the risk of blurring lines at work (which is super valid), then seek out other options—form an informal Spanish group at work or school so that people can practice during a lunch hour or coffee break. Or go all out and take an actual course so you can feel confident that you are all-around fluent in reading, writing, and speech.

You should also practice Spanish whenever you can—write your to-do and grocery lists in Spanish; listen to music in Spanish; ask your friends or family to help you out by speaking to you in Spanish more than they do now.  Immerse yourself!  The goal is always to strengthen your fluency so that you are comfortable showcasing this skill in job interviews and then actually use the language to obtain and represent clients.

Finally, if you’re seeking employment where Spanish is considered highly desirable then make sure you practice a little Spanish before your interviews. You just never know when they will test you out. I interviewed for a position where the interviewer just started speaking Spanish. That can throw people off if you’re not expecting it and could trip you up—but once you’re confident in your abilities, you’ll just take a beat and start hablando Español sin problema!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *