Discovering the power of language

I NERVOUSLY STEPPED through the classroom door­way with my father trailing behind me.

I was 11 years old when I attended school for the first time in America. My father, Mohammed, explained to the teacher that we just moved from the middle eastern country of Jordan to Florida and that I did not understand English. I spoke Arabic.

I understood when my teacher welcomed me and introduced me to my new classmates. But everything else was foreign.

“¿Hola, cómo estás?” the teacher and students asked me. I couldn’t answer. I listened to their language and thought it was English. Finally, I realized it wasn’t. My family and relatives were expecting me to learn English in school. When I spoke on the phone with my relatives back in Jordan, they were surprised and shocked about me learning Spanish as a second language, but found it funny and exciting. My uncles and aunts wanted me to stay on the phone for hours speaking Spanish, and they still do, especially, my uncle Hassan.

“Oh that is amazing, you should teach me Spanish, Bayan, so we will be the only ones in the family who speak Spanish and start a business,” said my uncle.

In Miami, I picked up Spanish in three years, and now I’m able to read and write fluently. I remember when I used to go shopping with my mother, Sumaya, I had to translate what the cashier was trying to say.

What surprised me was that learning Spanish opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunities.

“Hola, mi nombre es Bayan,” I said as I introduced myself to Spanish-speaking people.

“¡Tu sabe Español, qué bueno!” said people who were positively surprised about my ability.

My school was very diverse, and learning English and Spanish helped me meet people from many different cultures.

In 2013, when I was 14 years old, my family moved to Minnesota to receive an even more diverse education. I started as a freshman at Harding Senior High School on St. Paul’s east side. I quickly discovered our new environment was the best place to perfect my English language skills. I’m even interested in learning Hmong.

I often serve as an interpreter, helping teachers better communi­cate with new English Language Learners, or ELL students, from Latin American countries.

“You speak Spanish very well, and I think you should study languages in college,” my father always said encouragingly.

I plan to major in communica­tions and journalism in college. And I want to empower people to feel confident about sharing their stories and viewpoints in their native languages.