2022 Hall of Fame Nominee

Jenniffer Whyte
The Donoho School
Anniston, AL
2022 Finalist from SCOLT

You just never know when knowing another language can help you save the day. A friend of mine who speaks several languages told me about an experience where she was in the airport about to get on a flight, when she noticed two men acting suspiciously. She decided to sit close to them at the gate of the flight. As she sat right behind them, she heard one of them say in Arabic, “hide the knife carefully”. She then heard them say, “count everyone who is boarding this flight”. She immediately panicked and told her husband she will not board the flight. She was so adamant that her husband took her to someone who worked for the airline. The airline employee told her to describe the people and to explain everything they said. Soon the flight was delayed, the two men were taken to another location to be searched, and they were not allowed to board the plane. My friend, being able to speak the Arabic language, was able to save all the people on the plane that day. On that day, no one on that plane realized that their life was in jeopardy. Because of her understanding of the Arabic language, she became an unsung hero which she and her husband and few of the airport staff would ever know. Knowing a language is like knowing a secret code of communication that can lead you to attaining what you need, and what you want.

Language is a fundamental building block for any social experience. On its own, it speaks of norms, values, systems, and understanding. Just as the Moors changed Spanish because of their beliefs, such as the word Allah shows up often in words like ojalá, almohada, alfombra, aldea, and almendra.

Students should all learn cultural competence and not assume, generalize, or discriminate. As world language teachers we can influence our students in positive or negative ways. Learning languages opens opportunities that cross cultural lines, color barriers, economic status, and sometimes even a social status. World language instructors are amazing vehicles that drive students to Vexplore a world of possibilities that can change their lives forever. When teaching language, I’m able to teach about different types of people who are already present in our society. People who oftentimes are hidden or ignored by everyone else. Building cultural competence is extremely important, especially when students meet people that do not match the stereotype that they are used to. My husband is from Panamá and he is very dark skinned. I like to bring him to class as a speaker so that students can get used to seeing someone who is black and not assume that they are African American. Students should not have the look of surprise when they hear a person of color speaking any language. In learning cultural competence, students can also learn how to connect with others even if they are not from the same country.