Nothing in this world gives me greater satisfaction than hearing that “Muchas Gracias” followed by a smile at the end of every parent meeting that I have the great privilege of translating. You see, I’m a bilingual Instructional assistant at Colton Middle School and as part of my job requirements I must translate parent meetings for Spanish-only speaking parents. However, translating parent meetings didn’t always make me feel as great, especially when you’re only seven years old translating for your parents a language that you barely even know yourself, not only was it inconvenient it was also humiliating. I usually tried to make my parents forget that it was parent conference day or I tried to behave my very best in school so that there would be no need for a conference. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed of my parents; it was simply that fear of not knowing how to translate a certain word or its correct pronunciation. Today I look back and laugh as I think of its irony; I get paid to do something that I once so deeply feared.
School for me started in Tijuana, Mexico, at the age of four, where I just about learned to read and write in Spanish. Then at the age of seven my parents decided that it would probably be best if my sister and I would continue or education here in California since we were both U.S citizens. They figured that since the Mexican school system hadn’t done much for them it probably wouldn’t do much for us either. So we said goodbye to my friends and family and moved to a Los Angeles neighborhood that wasn’t much different from the one we had just left. Here everyone spoke Spanish and customs were just about the same. However, school was a different story. I didn’t understand my teachers and the books were in a language that I knew very little of. Like many other Spanish speaking children, I was placed in classes for low performers most of my elementary years for my low scores in State tests. I was fortunate to have an after school tutor who gladly helped me with my school work and homework. Since after school tutoring took place in the school library, the tutors would encourage us to check out and read books. Though I cannot recall the name of any book in particular, books were the bridge to my educational success, since they helped increase my vocabulary while practicing the language. At home I didn’t receive much help with schoolwork since neither of my parents spoke the language, so I was forced to teach myself. My parents did however encourage my sister and I to read both books in English and Spanish in order not to forget our native tongue. By the time high school came I was at grade level and felt much more comfortable in my shoes. My high school counselor, now that I think of it, wasn’t very supportive she told me that I’d be better off going to a community college instead of a university even though I had respectable grades. Nevertheless that choice turned out to be the best since it brought me to the place where I am today.
Through the course of my early second language and literacy development the school system wasn’t much help since most of my literacy development was gained through practice. However bilingual children today are very fortunate to have the No Child Left Behind Act on their side because aside from receiving state testing accommodations, they also receive individualized in-class assistance from instructional aides like myself, something children like myself could have benefited from. Because of my early education background, I have chosen a career path that would allow me to be of assistance of to children of similar backgrounds and circumstances as myself. Every day I try to convince my ESL students of how lucky they are to be learning a second language and of the value of education, because as long as I can convince one student to take advantage of the education they are receiving and to pursue a further education then I have fulfilled my purpose.