2023 Hall of Fame Nominee

Claudia Elliott
Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Jacksonville, FL
2023 Finalist from SCOLT

Learning English was a must for my brother and me. I went to law school and my brother went to medical school in Colombia. We knew that if we wanted to advance in our careers, we had to speak English. Back then, I didn’t know how much more important it is for all learners to learn other languages and to develop cultural competence.

However, when I moved to the United States that perspective changed. As a Colombian in the United States, I heard all types of jokes about illegal drugs or cartels and of course comments about my accent. This should not have been surprising to me considering that the only thing that most people knew about my country was what they learned in the News, TV shows, and now Netflix with their high rating shows like Pablo Escobar and Narcos. However, it was surprising and hurtful.

That feeling helped me realize the immense opportunity I had as a Spanish teacher. Not only could my students develop proficiency in the language that will give them many advantages in their careers and lives, but also I could help my students to cultivate an enduring understanding and respect for other cultures.

As a country, we talk a lot about being open-minded and respectful of others´ cultures and views. We want to eliminate discrimination, stereotypes, and racism. However, it's difficult to develop respect and cultivate an authentic love for people, practices, and products that we don't really know.

How much easier it would be for our young learners to have a true interest and respect for the people of Colombia, for example, if they knew about Colombian
coffee, the fearless and talented cyclists, and the diversity of its people, and music.

When we use the language to learn about the wonders of other cultures, stereotypes can be broken, and discrimination and racism can be replaced by compassion, empathy, and respect.

One of the most powerful quotes I´ve heard in education is from Dr. Rudine S. Bishop. She talks about the importance of having mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors where students can see themselves and others in our classes.

I believe that this quote encompasses the importance of learning languages and developing cultural competence. Languages are the vehicle that will allow our young people to discover the richness of others cultures while learning more about themselves. Our language classes are the perfect space to create those mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.

Languages and cultural competence cannot be separated and both are paramount in our world today. It's not only about nouns, adjectives, or verbs. If we only focus on those, it would be like having the parts of a vehicle but forgetting about the engine. It´s when those words carry compelling messages that cultivate cultural competence that we can truly create a transformation in our classes.

If we want to educate a generation that is not only ready for a very competitive professional world but also compassionate, respectful, and empathetic, learning languages and developing cultural competence is a must.