Multiple tongues, multiple uses


Adalky Capellán speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese on DePauw's campus, but she speaks only Spanish at her home in Washington Heights, New York.
Capellán, a senior studio art major, is one of several students at DePauw that can speak and write in a language other than English. Though the exact number of bilingual or multilingual students cannot be calculated since prospective students have the option to self-report the languages they speak on their applications, these students have various ways of putting their skills to use at DePauw.
"It's a rule my dad created," Capellán said of only speaking Spanish, her first language, at home. "He doesn't want us to forget Spanish."
Though Capellán's kindergarten class was taught in English, she began an Amistad program in middle school where both Spanish and English were taught, on separate days.
"I always liked to be the trickster, and speak Spanish on the English days and speak English on the Spanish days," Capellán said.
Shortly after Capellán explains this, her mom calls her cell phone and she answers it, instantly switching over to speaking in Spanish.
Other than communicating with her family members back home, Capellán also uses Spanish on campus to socialize with other Spanish-speaking students and faculty.
"It's crazy how just speaking a language can help someone feel more at home, or speaking in the same dialect of your language," Capellán said.
In New York, Capellán had many friends who spoke Spanish, but spoke in different dialects, such as Peruvian or Castilian.
"Growing up, people would be like, 'You're Spanish,'" Capellán said. "Spanish is a language, not a heritage."
Capellán, who is Dominican Republican and Puerto Rican, said that several things differ between demographic groups, such as Puerto Ricans putting beans on top of their rice, and Dominicans putting beans on the side of their rice.
Capellán said she loves to cook, so when she speaks in Spanish on campus, the conversation mainly focuses on food.
"Once you talk about food, you'll talk about culture," Capellán said.
Her Spanish conversations also revolve around novelas, or Spanish soap operas, movies, music and other entertainment. She has also used it to offer advice to Spanish-speaking underclassmen encountering issues, such as roommate problems.
Capellán also uses language in the academic sphere. In high school, her friends spoke Portuguese a lot, so she learned from them and later took an introductory course in Portuguese at DePauw her freshman year. She has also taken a grammatical course in Spanish and an Italian course.
Much like her middle school days, she still mixes between English and other languages.
"I'm used to it," Capellán said, mentioning her community in New York. "They share ideas through different languages."
Aliza Frame, the assistant director of International Student Services said she thinks being bilingual or multilingual gives students a different perspective when it comes to academic work, as they have experience knowing what it means to understand concepts from a different paradigm.
"I see sometimes that some students underappreciate what it means to be bilingual," Frame said. "They don't always really take as much pride as they should in the fact that they've grown up bicultural or multicultural."
Like the number of multilingual students at DePauw, the number of languages represented is hard to say because of the self-reportage part of the application.
Some languages represented include Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Hindi, Spanish, French, German, Ukrainian, Russian, Portuguese, Farsi and Arabic. DePauw has had Bulgarian-speaking students in the past and there are also African students who speak various languages from different African nations.
Frame said that these students could use their language to connect to other students on campus and she thinks they will find their skills advantageous once they leave DePauw, whether they have a summer internship working with immigrant or refugee populations or working in an urban setting that requires language or cultural skills.
"Once they've graduated and they're really out working and living, it will open doors for them," Frame said.
Frame said that while most of the domestic multilingual students are probably native English speakers, the majority of the 250 international students are not. She has heard students talk about the difficulties of growing up in another language and having to perform on par with students from an English-speaking household that may have a wider vocabulary.
"Growing up bilingual, you have to split your time," Frame said.
Along with growing up with a different language, whether in a domestic or international household, cultural norms can vary as well, such as interacting with professors and public speaking. Students and faculty must deal with this in the classroom and figure out how that will factor into grading and student support.
"[International students] are all high achievers in English when they get here," Frame said. "But that doesn't mean they still don't's an ongoing learning process."
When Chie Itzu, a junior communications major, can't think of a word in English, she'll suddenly switch to Japanese, her first language, to make herself clear to another Japanese-speaking student in conversation.
"Maybe I feel at home when I speak Japanese," Itzu said.
In her hometown of Osaka, Japan, Itzu said that she doesn't use English at all. She was eight when she was introduced to English for the first time in English conversation classes after school. She'd go once a week for about an hour, and continued learning, as she got older.
If she and other Japanese-speaking students gather together on campus, they speak in Japanese about "everything." If there is another student there that doesn't speak Japanese, they will talk in English. She doesn't use Japanese nearly as much here as she does back home.
"I definitely use Japanese when I talk to my parents on Skype or my friends on Skype," Itzu said. "But here at DePauw, there are scarce Japanese people."
Itzu does however put her language skills to use for those learning Japanese here at DePauw. She volunteers to help teach English-speaking students about Japanese vocabulary in conversation.
She also had the opportunity to put her skills to use this past Winter Term when she interned for the Chiyoda Company. She was a translator between an English-speaking manager and a Japanese-speaking manager.
Carrie Klaus, associate professor of French and chair of the modern languages department said that another language gives access to whole other set of countries, culture, literature and intellectual studies to individuals in an academic setting.
"It opens up a whole other segment of the world to you," Klaus said.
If a student speaks a language that the modern languages department teaches at DePauw, they have the opportunity to tutor students like Itzu does or they can help out at the language conversation tables at lunch.
"We do teach on a fairly regular basis nine modern languages at DePauw," Klaus said.
Languages offered include Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Portuguese occasionally, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.
Klaus said it is rare for heritage speakers who grew up learning another language to major in that language at DePauw, with the exception of Spanish. Occasionally, a heritage speaker will take French or another language.
Klaus said that she is always thrilled when she has heritage speakers in a classroom.
"I think that bilingual and multilingual students bring a lot to DePauw, and bring a lot to the classroom," Klaus said.