Many people visiting a foreign country have experienced the discomfort of adjusting to a new culture, religion and especially a new language. For them, such adjustments are temporary. But for the many immigrants who come to the United States each year, it can be a lifelong process.
Katia, 10, Edgar, 12, and Giovanni Quebrado, 14, were born in Mexico and have been in the United States about nine years. They remember how frustrated they felt when they first moved here.
"I didn't know any English, and when people asked me questions, I just said, 'Yes,' " Katia recalled.
Y-Press recently interviewed 11 students whose families came to the United States from different lands. Edgar and Giovanni attend Craig Middle School, and Katia goes to Forest Glen Elementary in Lawrence Township, as do Gilberto Collazo, 9, Joshua Sampoll, 8, Tiffany Ocasio, 10, Emely Castillo, 8, and Miguel Arredondo, 9. Gintare Kumpyte, 11, Asmah Amirkhani, 11, and Haseeb Sharifi, 9, are students at Spring Mill Elementary in Washington Township.
It's easier to learn a new language when you are young, according to the Forest Glen students, all of whom speak Spanish.
"It's much easier to learn English than Spanish, 'cause you have to practice and practice and practice Spanish a lot," said Joshua, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States two years ago.
Difficulties with English
But English was difficult for Haseeb and Asmah, who came here about three years ago from Afghanistan.
"I had a very hard time learning it because I didn't know any words or anything in English, so every time when someone said anything, I would just like kind of ignore them because I don't know what they were saying," Asmah said.
Nevertheless, all of these children have learned to speak English more fluently than their parents. In fact, their mastery of English sometimes surpasses their knowledge of their native language.
"I have been here for three or four years, and I kind of like forget how to speak my own language after I speak English for a while," said Asmah.
"You have to like translate in your head and stuff so that you would say the right thing," added Gintare, who left Lithuania with her parents less than two years ago.
This can pose problems at home. Most of these students' parents want them to speak their native language to them.
"At home my dad always tells me to speak Spanish. He only wants me to speak English at school 'cause my mom doesn't understand English," said Emely, whose mother is from the Dominican Republic and whose dad is from Guatemala.
The students agree that going to school has helped them learn English. It is much harder for their parents, most of whom have not received any formal instruction.
Asmah explained: "My mom knows how to speak English just a little bit. So like if someone was talking to her, she would understand them. She would like talk back, but she wouldn't like say the words perfectly, but the people can still understand what she's saying."
Many students find themselves living in two worlds and serving as translators for their families. They often accompany their parents to banks and doctor's offices to convey what their parents want to say.
"Like in this school, I speak in English. (If) my parents are here, too, they want me to speak in Spanish. I get embarrassed sort of, 'cause this is an English school," said Tiffany, who was born in Puerto Rico and has been in the United States for two years.
Acting as interpreter
Emely has had similar experiences.
"My mom doesn't know really that much English, so me or my dad or my brother help her like when she's somewhere at a doctor or talking to my teacher."
Immigrant children tend to adjust quickly, and school programs like English as a Second Language help speed the process. However, these programs don't always stop discrimination by other students.
"Lots of the times they just make fun and say some mean stuff. And lots of times they get some Spanish words like cuss words. They just say them to you," said Edgar.
But most of these students have not felt the effects of ill will. And some of their fellow students actually want to learn another language, since they know it can come in handy.
"They really like people that can speak Spanish," said Gilberto, who was born in Puerto Rico.
"Lots of my friends want to learn Spanish, so they ask me if I could speak some Spanish for them so they can learn," said Edgar.
"Some of my friends that are taking Spanish classes, they come to me and ask me what some words mean, so I tell them, and I help them sometimes," added Giovanni.
Others feel embarrassed when asked to speak their native tongue at school.
"They looked at me really weirdly, like they were freaked out or something," said Asmah after speaking Afghani to some children.
"They might think like we're kinda crazy 'cause they don't understand what we're saying," added Katia.
But all agree that it will be useful to know two languages, especially when they are older and go to college or get a job.
"Like, if the job's in Spanish, you can speak both languages," said Emely.
What if everyone in the world spoke the same language? Some thought that would be an improvement.
"You could go anywhere and speak the same language," said Tiffany.
"You wouldn't have to learn a lot of words again," agreed Gintare.
But others thought it would make for a dull world.
"It would be kind of boring because then nobody would know another language, and you won't have something else to learn," said Edgar.
REPORTERS: Clare Welch, 11, and Cakey Worthington, 13.
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