Most of my attitudes toward languages other than mine have been shaped by being a English Language Learner teacher. This year there are twenty-seven different languages spoken in my school, many I have not heard of until recently. Growing up I was not exposed to other languages at all. I lived in a predominately Caucasian area of rural Pennsylvania. I did not have experiences with people of different races or languages. Where I live and work now is a stark contrast to my original experiences. When I began teaching at a high English Learner (EL) population school I had no idea what to expect. I have grown to love the diversity and different languages. I will often ask my students or their parents how to say certain words and listen completely captivated when they speak to each other in their native tongues. It continues to fascinate me when I listen to five year old children seamlessly transition from speaking one language to their peers to speaking English to me.
I am only fluent in one language. There have been many things which have deterred me from learned another language. The most prevalent is I would not even now where to start. When I tell people I am an EL teacher their first response is to inquire about my fluency in Spanish. While many of my students speak Spanish it is not the only language I work with on a daily basis. The languages which are more widely spoken in my school, such as Spanish and Kurdish are not the ones I would want to learn first because there are so many students and parents who are able to translate or explain the majority of what is necessary when needed. The language I have a desire to speak from year to year differs based on the students I have. One year I had a student who spoke Karen. There were only two other students in the entire school who spoke her language and neither one of them were proficient enough to assist her in an emergency situation.
Since I am only fluent in my first language (L1) I learned how to communicate in that language as a child and I do not remember much of how I learned the language. One of the positive influences I know I had was the presence of a large family. I am the fifth of seven children. I am sure I was able to learn language quicker because of the constant presence of many other individuals who were utilizing the language. Another positive experience in my language learning was the presence of a formal education and academic mindset. I attended preschool from a very young age and was able to read before I started Kindergarten. During the years where language development was being acquired rapidly I was able to learn from print in addition to hearing the spoken word.
Some of the negative experiences were centered around just as negative events in my life. I was raised in an abusive home and because of that the language I had, and tended to share with others, was inappropriate and often got me into trouble. Ruby Sprott identified a situation where she was taught to...