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UMD Students Share Benefits and Burdens of Growing up Bilingual

BY AMBER EBANKS

One University of Maryland student calls her bilingual experience at the university “powerful” and “motivating.”

Junior sociology and Spanish major Lauren Paniati decided to double major in the language because of her love for it. Paniati believes being bilingual has not thwarted her time here. “I think it has helped tremendously,” she said. “It’s like discovering or opening up a whole new world. It helps to gain perspective, helps with job opportunities, allows you to understand a culture in a different way and relate to others and it’s fun.”

At the University of Maryland, many bilingual students can continue learning their native language within the language department or participate in the Global Communities Living and Learning program. Students that are part of the program have the option to live in Dorchester Hall, which according to its website, is known as “one of the most diverse, active and community-oriented residence halls on campus.”

According to  a 2004 study conducted by psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, “Bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.”

Simliarly to Paniati, senior psychology and communications major Cynthia Wong believes that being bilingual has benefited her. “We have more of a mixture between Cantonese and English [at home], but when I was younger, when my parents were not as fluent in English, we spoke mainly Cantonese,” Wong said.

“Being bilingual has made me more empathetic to those who struggle to learn/use English in the United States,” said Wong. “I know how hard it is to learn English so I think I’m more patient when I’m communicating with people who struggle to communicate in English. I also think that being bilingual has shaped my values. I’m really glad that I can speak Cantonese because it keeps me connected to my culture. “

Wong feels that the major problem she had as a result of being bilingual was self-esteem.

“I didn’t speak English fluently until I was in the fourth grade,” Wong said. “Growing up in a predominately white area, I was always very self-conscious about being Chinese and being different from my peers. I used to cry when I had to be pulled from class for my ESOL lesson.”

Despite the hardships some students face, senior government and politics major Nathalia Cibotti finds her bilingual experience positive and believes that being bilingual has helped her make friends because people are curious about her ability to speak another language.

“My parents moved to the United States from France 22 years ago,” Cibotti said. “Most people think it’s pretty cool and I have helped people with their pronunciation of words.”

Cibotti also said that she speaks French at home and speaks English in the public sphere. Her father is Argentinian and her mom is French. “My parents learned English a bit before they moved here, but mostly had to learn while they lived here.”

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