Why did I start Welcome Dialogue?

The experiences that led me to start Welcome Dialogue include my move to Chicago, Illinois when I was a young woman with no friends or family in the state. Having left college and graduate school behind, I could no longer make friends in the college dorm or the on-campus cafeteria. I was an adult and this was real life and I had to figure out how to build friendships from scratch. It was a lonely process. Midwestern social habits weren’t quite the same as those on the west or east coasts, where I had lived. It took quite a while for me to learn to read local social cues, respond appropriately and learn how to be a good friend.

In 22 years of living in Chicago, I have developed the practices that have brought me rich friendships and an active social life. I’ve learned how to cultivate good friendships and be the best friend I can be. A number of jobs have taught me that professionalism varies depending on the industry. I have experience in corporate settings, non-profit organizations, academia, childcare, music, restaurant and retail. I’ve become a scholar of human interactions and relationship dynamics, both personal and professional, and I’m ready to share what I’ve learned with others.

Another part of my passion about Welcome Dialogue is my understanding of how emotional language is. Like other American-born, English-dominant TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructors, I know the mechanics of teaching English and how important cultural context is. But many TESOL instructors don’t understand how emotional language-learning is. My parents only knew Spanish when they started school in Texas in the 1940s, but they were banned from speaking it at school. They learned English in the most traumatic way possible: under threat of punishment. As a result, they taught me and my sister only English so we would never feel that humiliation.

I did fine in the California schools I attended, speaking English like any American-born white child. But by the mid-1970s, the cultural winds had shifted and it became an asset to know Spanish. Elementary school teachers were teaching students to count to ten in Spanish and Sesame Street became bilingual. Knowing how to speak Spanish was now an important skill that I didn’t have, but everyone expected me to.

My mother began impressing upon me how important it was to know Spanish, which felt confusing and frustrating to me. Friends of my parents would cluck their tongues at my monolingualism, shake their heads reproachfully and say things like, “Why don’t you speak Spanish? You should speak Spanish.” I learned to feel ashamed. I felt like a bad Mexican, letting down the comunidad and missing a critical part of the Mexican experience. Even after I took Spanish in high school and learned all the conjugations and vocabulary, I still felt too self-conscious to speak it. I knew that if I spoke in Spanish, someone would hear my mistakes and dropped vowels and they’d know I was a fake, a sad representative of my people, a failure. This emotional block kept me from speaking Spanish to anyone except those who spoke only Spanish and even then, only if there was no one else around.

I know what it’s like to feel pressured to speak a language that doesn’t feel like your own. I know the shame and despair of fearing you’ll never get it right. I’m familiar with the way someone’s expression changes when they hear how you talk. I’ve wondered, “If all I can do is disappoint people when I speak that language, why even try?”

 You can learn all the grammar and vocabulary of a new language perfectly, but if you don’t feel comfortable speaking that language, you never will. Welcome Dialogue helps people work through those fears at the same time that we strengthen the mechanics of grammar and discuss American culture. Welcome Dialogue addresses every part of the language-learning process, including the emotions.

Founding Welcome Dialogue is a culmination of my experiences as a newcomer to Chicago, learning the workplace cultures of different industries, being the granddaughter of immigrants and knowing the shame of not speaking the way you’re supposed to. The final reason  – or maybe it’s the first – is that I have two degrees in English literature and I simply love words. I enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge. In short, Welcome Dialogue exists because I’m passionate about communication, community and grammar, and the only reason that statement isn’t on my business cards is that I didn’t know if it would work as a motto.