Julia Alvarez

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What is the summary of My English by Julia Alvarez?

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Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American writer. She was born on March 27, 1950. Now, she writes about how she learned English. She emphasizes her struggles with English. Julia was born in New York but her parents returned to the Dominican Republic when Alvarez was three months old. When Alvarez was ten, her parents came back to America. Julia became fluent in two languages. Her first language is Spanish and she felt a responsibility to keep it. This became her struggle. She had to learn English at her American school. 

She thought of English as a harder version of Spanish. When Julia and her sisters were kids, her parents would use English to talk about things they did not want the children to know. Julia would study her mother's face, trying to figure out what her mother was saying. At the same time, Julia would study her teachers' faces, trying to figure out English.

Julia's mother was the first to break the family tradition and send her girls to higher education. Julia was well Americanized at Abbot Academy. Julia's mother emphasized the importance of learning English. She insisted that they learn English. As hard as Julia tried, a Spanish word slide into her English.    

Sister Maria Generosa had a significant impact on Julia when Julia was in the sixth grade. Sister Maria Generosa did not make her memorize verbal rules. She allowed her to use her imagination when she picked up an item for them to translate into English. 

No doubt, Julia became fluent in English. She still thought of her English as a harder version of Spanish. But she could speak English as fluently as a Native English speaker. Now she writes in English:

Many of Alvarez's works are influenced by her experiences as a Dominican in the United States, and focus heavily on issues of assimilation and identity. Her cultural upbringing as both a Dominican and an American is evident in the combination of personal and political tone in her writing. She is known for works that examine cultural expectations of women both in the Dominican Republic and the United States, and for rigorous investigations of cultural stereotypes.

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trilliumblue7 | Student

Summary of My English

Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American writer. She describes the struggle and the achievements she had in the essay ‘My English’. She lived in the Dominican Republic with her family, who spoke only Spanish at home. She grew up learning Spanish by heart. It was her first language. She and her sister joined Carol Morgan School and became a bilingual family. She had to use English in school. As Spanish had its many tongues, she thought of English as another and harder version of Spanish. When they were kids her parents would use English to talk about things they didn’t want the kids to know. Julia used to watch her mothers Spanish facial expression to understand the “harder Spanish”. She used this same method in school to understand her teachers. She would try to transform the English she learned in school to Spanish by repeating it all day long. Her mother was the first in her family to break the tradition of only boys being allowed to receive higher education, she went to Abbot Academy. She was well Americanized there. She emphasized the importance of learning English on her kids. But Julia’s English was mixed up with Spanish. It was like she had no control over it, one Spanish word would slide into her English as if it was no different. Her teachers would correct her mistakes every once in a while and she felt like her native language was not as good as English. Eventually she was talking up an English storm. She practiced English with her grandfather who was well-known for speaking fluent English. She learned from her friends and relatives. But Spanish was a big part of her life, so when she came to New York she was stunned to see everyone using, as once she put it, “harder Spanish”. It took her some time to realize that English was to them as easy as Spanish was to her. She understood that people in New York were not superior or smarter just because they knew English, she grew accustomed to listening English. She no longer strained to understand English. In sixth grade she had one of the best teachers who unfolded the love of language she had inside her since her childhood of listening closely to words to understand. Her name was Sister Maria Generosa. She did not make her students memories verbal rules, instead she asked them to be creative using their own imaginations about the small subjects she would pick for them. The verbal gadgets, the fixation in sentences, the tricks and turns she taught to give a sentence the proper meaning as well as to make it verbally correct carried her in its great fluent waves on the shore of her new homeland, she had landed in the English language. She was no longer a foreigner with no grounds to stand on. There was a time when she compared herself to the people from Bible who was punished for pride by being made to speak different languages, but eventually she understood more and more. From being a wordsmith of an entirely new language she has achieved flawless ability of using it as a second language


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