FOCUS: The English Learning Department’s journey to semantic inclusiveness and bilingual recognition

Over the years, the nomenclature regarding students who speak another language and are learning English has changed in attempt to be more semantically correct. Previously, terms included “Limited English Speaking Ability,” “Limited English Proficient” and currently “English learner,” which is now transitioning to “Emergent Bilingual.” Many at SCHS agree with the change.

English teacher Arantxa Figueroa believes that changing the name is more than a shift in the terminology but a recognition of what a student already knows.

“I think the whole notion of changing the name is that semantics need to reflect power, and we’ve often framed English learners as people who are deficit of language as opposed to being somebody who already possesses a language.” Figueroa said.

Reading intervention teacher Timea Kiraly also believes that the EL program’s name needs to imply a student’s strengths.

“Bilingual sounds much better, and it implies that you know both languages at a very high level,” Kiraly said.

Freshman Minh Nguyen has gone through the EL program, and recalled some of the hardships when he came to America not knowing English.

“When I can’t get something I’m talking about, and I don’t understand what my teacher is saying,” Nguyen said.

When a student speaks more than one language, it can broaden the perspectives of those around them, opening them up to new cultures and ideas. According to Figueroa, adjusting the curriculum for EL students is beneficial for all students.

“I think the best thing you can do as a teacher in this day and age is to cater your lesson plans and your style of teaching for not just mainstream or regular students but for English learners,” Figueroa said.

Freshman Sarah Brady had a hard time in quarantine reconnecting with her ethnic roots, a struggle that emerged due to the pandemic limiting travel restrictions. Brady was unable to visit her family in Hungary.

“When I go to Hungary, I feel like I need to know the language more in depth,” Brady said. “I guess I feel pressured by my grandparents, but not so much that it is a huge deal.”

Many can be angry toward those learning English because they are impatient, but Figueroa believes that being hostile will not benefit anyone. According to her, being nurturing and supportive are paramount to helping a learner on their journey.

“People need to realize that all emergent bilinguals have skills. They’re all capable of language, and they’re capable of learning more languages,” Figueroa said.

Junior Ashley Ta noted a factor in the struggles of those who know a language other than English.

“There’s definitely some sort of racism in the world where it’s like, ‘You can’t speak your language here,” Ta said.