Language in and out of the classroom

Posted: December 17, 2015

Growing up bilingual benefits many Minnehaha students

Every day, high schoolers fill Minnehaha’s language classes. Students take their seats and pull our their textbooks and iPads. The bell rings and the teacher greets the students with a cheery “Bonjour,” “nǐmén hÇŽo,” “salve” or “hola” as they begin to take notes. While studying a language is a privilege at many schools, some people know a second language fluently, and can speak it whenever they please –forget the vocab cards. These people are bilingual, and there are over 55 million of them living in the United States.

The presence of bilinguals in our community is rarely talked about, but it’s too prominent to be ignored. As of 2007, more than 18 percent of children over the age of five speak a language other than English at home, according to the American Community survey, and the number is expected to only grow from there. If we include the children under the age of five growing up in these homes, the number would most likely be around 20 percent. Many Minnehaha students have enjoyed the advantage of growing up bilingual.

Junior Meena Morar acquired this skill through her grandmother, Marioara Vasilescu, whose first language is Romanian. Since Meena was born, Vasilescu has visited Meena and her mother, Sanda Morar, staying for longer periods of time. Through hearing her mother and grandmother speak Romanian, and soon speaking it herself, Meena learned to call the language her own. And through the language, she has been able to know and understand her grandmother.

“[My grandmother] is very watchful,” Meena said. “You can tell she really cares about you, because she’s always making sure you have everything you need, like grandmas do. Every single second, she’s there, watching over you. And sure, now it might be a little bit overwhelming, when you’re figuring everything out, but it’s nice to know that I can count on her.”

Meena retells the story of how her family came to be in America, starting with her mother’s brave move.

“[My mom] didn’t feel like she could achieve what she wanted to achieve in Romania,” she said.

Sanda moved to the United States at age 23, leaving her family and friends an ocean away in pursuit of a brighter future in a foreign land. Here, she finished medical school and became a doctor. America suited her well.

“She felt more limited in Romania itself, and in America she felt like even the pastor of the church was encouraging her to do more with her life,” Meena said.

Although Sanda and her family have been living the American Dream, they have not forgotten their relatives back in Romania. In 2010, Meena, 12 years old at the time, and Sanda visited their relatives in Bucharest. For Sanda, it was the first time in 20 years. Meena had never met her relatives before. During their stay, Meena spent time with her uncle and two cousins and explored the city. She has visited several times since then.

Meena’s understanding of the Romanian language validated her sense of belonging in Romania, and helped her communicate and develop relationships with her relatives.

“I understand what’s being said around me,” Meena said. “Especially the older I get, the more I learn.”

Spanish III teacher Jacquelyn Dell’Arciprete hopes for her daughters, Arianna (age 5) and Rebecca (18 months), to have the same familiarity with a second language. Dell’Arciprete has been teaching Spanish for many years at different levels, starting her career in college.

“I felt like God was telling me very clearly that I should teach Spanish,” she remembers.

She ended up falling in love with the language and the culture.

“I enjoy teaching a lot, and I love learning about how people learn a foreign language,” she said. “It’s really fascinating for me to plan and provide opportunities for students to actually speak another language, to learn to communicate in that language, and to grow in understanding of another culture.”

She and her husband Mauricio, a native of Argentina, speak Spanish at home, and are raising their children with the same knowledge of the language.

“It’s such a great life skill that they’re going to have,” she said.

Dell’Arciprete’s prediction is dead on. The knowledge of a second language opens the door to a multitude of new skills, including an ability to learn new words easily, the capacity to use and process information in new ways, improved listening skills, and stronger connections with others.

Sophomore Caroline Bejarano agreed that her understanding of Spanish has helped her go farther in life. She attended Adams Spanish Immersion from preschool through fifth grade.

“At the Spanish immersion, you’re speaking Spanish all day,” Bejarano recounts.

She became so familiar with Spanish that it felt like her first language, and she was practically fluent by fifth grade.

The immersion program offered Bejarano the opportunity to host a Spanish-speaking Amity that would live with her for a full year. Throughout her experience at Adams, she hosted three Amities.

“I really got to practice [Spanish] with them, and I learned so much from them, too,” she said.

On June 2, she boarded a flight to Spain. She was on her way to the wedding of one of her Amities. The roles were reversed. Bejarano was now living in the home of her Amity. She spoke Spanish in their home, ate their food, and spent two weeks fully immersed in a culture foreign to her own.

Bejarano currently studies AP Spanish 5, just as her brother, senior Eric Bejarano did. However, she and her brother don’t use Spanish as a means of communication.

“He’s over his Spanish career in high school, but I’m still trying to pursue it,” she said. “I would love to speak Spanish in college, and I think he would, too.”

She remembers struggling on the first day of immersion school.

“The teacher’s talking to you in only Spanish and you’re so confused,” she said. “You just want to go home.”

But she also acknowledges the strength that emerged from such a task.

“You learn to persevere, really work your hardest to achieve something that can help you a lot later in life,” she said.

And with those words, Bejarano voiced the essence of language. Whether it is a way of studying another culture, a means of communication, or linked to a family history, language is an important part of daily life. And through perseverance and community, it can open the door to a new dimension of diversity and culture that’s waiting to be discovered.


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