The Many Different Languages of Central

URSULA SANTOS AND HANS CASSIUS  DISPLAY THEIR OWN HOME LANGUAGE -- Seniors Ursula Santos and Hans Cassius show  the language they use at home is different than at school.

Shelby Campbell

URSULA SANTOS AND HANS CASSIUS DISPLAY THEIR OWN HOME LANGUAGE — Seniors Ursula Santos and Hans Cassius show the language they use at home is different than at school.

Justin Metcalf, Staff Writer

Chattanooga Central High School is home to an array of diverse students with many different backgrounds and cultures, but as educators and peers to these students, we sometimes fail to recognize, respect, and understand their diversities.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, eight percent of students ages five to 17 residing in the state of Tennessee speak a language other than English at home. As a result, many exclusively English-speaking people are left unexposed to the experiences of bilingual and multilingual individuals. This can lead to numerous inaccurate assumptions and inappropriate questions from the ill-informed monolinguals.

Senior Ursula Santos grew up speaking both English and Spanish, although she is more proficient in English as it is her first language and the language she uses to read and write.

“[My parents] are from Guatemala, but I was born in America. At home, I speak to my parents in Spanish, but in school I learned to read and write in English. Because of that, I am more proficient in English and never learned how to write in Spanish,” she shared.

“My dad’s English has improved over the years, and he’s been able to start his own landscaping business because of it. My mom’s English is decent. I wouldn’t say it’s the best, but it’s enough for her to get by and hold a conversation. Growing up, I translated things for her such as doctor visits, but now she doesn’t need much of my help,” explained Santos.

Many solely English-speaking people may view speaking a language other than English at home as a hindrance to the student and his or her parent(s), but it is not as great of an obstacle as one might imagine. There are many benefits that come from being a bilingual or multilingual person.

“I get the best of both worlds,” stated Santos, “because speaking two languages can help me get a better job and a higher pay than I would if I spoke only one language.”

Hans Cassius is another Central senior who speaks a language other than English at home, however he is multilingual, speaking both Haitian Creole and French along with English. Haitian Creole is a Creole language, meaning it was developed from a mixture of different languages. It is based partly on French with other influences of Spanish and West African languages. Cassius was born in Haiti along with his parents, so Creole was his first language.

“I am most comfortable with speaking Creole, but I would consider myself proficient in English, too. I speak Creole more than French,” noted Cassius. “I try to help out older Haitians living in the U.S. who are struggling with their English as much as possible. I often run into them at grocery stores and gas stations when they need assistance.”

Bilingual and multilingual individuals face greater challenges other than minor translations for those struggling with their English.  More often than not, they are made uncomfortable by people asking invasive questions or making impolite comments concerning their language.

“People will come up to me and ask me to speak ‘Haitian’ or ‘Haiti’, but those are not languages. I speak Creole. I don’t go up to [exclusively English-speaking people] and ask them to ‘speak American’ or to say something in ‘the United States of America’,” expressed Cassius.

Cassius is not alone in his frustration. Santos has encountered many people with inappropriate requests and remarks regarding her Spanish.

“When I first came [to Central], people would ask me say something in Spanish and completely expect me to know every word in Spanish. And they would automatically assume I was ‘Mexican’ when my family is from Guatemala,” said Santos.

With respect and an understanding for our fellow classmates, we can strive to make Central a more comfortable and accepting place for everyone regardless of their background.  Do not allow language to separate us from one another; rather, let it bring us together in a productive way.