Growing up, Vietnamese was the only languagethat I knew. At Kindergarten, the teacher greeted me by saying “good morning.”I would just smile and walk away. I felt so different from my classmates andteacher to the point where my grades were slipping and I lacked motivationto do my school work. I was put on autopilot. “Jennifer,did you do yesterday’s homework?” my teacher asked.
Ididn’t bother looking up as I shook my head, “No”. I felt so different fromeveryone because I couldn’t comprehend anything being taught. Eventually,my parents were called in for a conference.
During the conference, myteacher and the school’s English Language Learner (ELL) teacher enrolled me in anafter-school homework group. I was placed with students who spoke the samelanguage as me. The group members helped me feel safe and comfortable talkingin Vietnamese while learning English. Soon, my teacher and classmates referredme by my Vietnamese name which is “Nhu”. Finally, I was no longerfeeling lost; the confusion of the languages that once pulled me into a spiralof darkness was no longer there. I realized I had a special skill of speakingtwo different languages. My grades and participation in both languages were insync.
Even my classmates were asking me how to say words in Vietnamese. This experience helpedme learned that recognizing a student’s differences provides a positivefoundation for effective learning. This prepares me for teaching in anurban school because students aremore likely to thrive in an environment where it’s instructed in a languagethat they’re proficient in. This allows students to make suggestions, askquestions, answer questions and create and communicate new knowledge withenthusiasm.From January to June 2017, I was a tutor in adual language (Spanish/English) first grade classroom. Students are alwaysasking questions about the meaning of a specific term. I believe that developing a level ofproficiency in another language opens doors to other ways of thinking about theworld and the possibility of relationships with people in other communities.
This experience helped me learn that the field of education is such a universallanguage. There shouldn’t be any limitations between the languages that you canspeak; rather it should be recognized as a unique skill. This helps prepareme to teachin an urban school because I am able to recognize and accept the differentlanguages spoken. This allows me to adjust the course materials into languagesreflected in the classroom through translated books, letter’s, and directions. A common misconception was that bilingualism is a rare phenomenon.
Frommy elementary and tutoring experience, I learned that being bilingual meansyou’re not the minority. Many of thestudents that I work with already speak another language other than Spanish andEnglish. Today, the number of people in the United States who are bilingualkeeps growing and it must be reflected in our classroom communities.