Friday, March 11, 2011

Breaking Barriers: School through the eyes of a Spanish speaking immigrant

Evelyn Garcia
I came to the United States when I was 21 years old. I came to finish my bachelor’s degree in business administration. I had gone to English school back in El Salvador since I was six years old, but when I set foot in this country I realized how little I knew. It was a shock to me to find out that even though I had gone to school and learned English, to actually live here – to eat, breathe and dream English – was a whole different ball game.

Through the years I became more comfortable with the language and lost my fear of it. This experience makes me think of all these kids who come to the United States with no knowledge whatsoever of the language when they enroll in school. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to try to learn a subject such as history or science while not understanding the language in which it is taught and how hard it must be to take a test in that language.

My fear always was that I was not understanding the question right. I would read it over and over again, thinking, is this really what the teacher is asking? Imagine if one day all your teachers started talking in Spanish or Vietnamese or Chinese; would you be able to understand? I am glad that I found understanding from my teachers and my classmates. They were always willing to help me understand the questions and have the patience that allowed me to get comfortable enough that I could do my homework, take tests and not doubt my ability to learn.

I think is remarkable to see kids for whom English is a new language not only learning subjects at school but learning them as they learn the language. I truly believe that the support that I received from my parents, my teachers and my classmates helped me overcome the barrier of the language. So if you are struggling with the language or if your kids are, keep trying, keep pushing, keep learning. I know it is hard and sometimes it feels like you will never learn, but the reality is we never stop learning and that is the beauty of the challenge. I am still learning, I am still asking questions. Learn what you need to learn today; tomorrow you will learn some more.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced something like this? Have you ever gone to another country and felt lost because you couldn’t speak the language? How can we help and encourage these students? Let’s hear your experiences and ideas.

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

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