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The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Students Told Being Bilingual Is A Plus

by Sapna Kollali, Staff writer

24 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

Maritza Alvarado calls herself "a heritage speaker" of Spanish. A New York City native born to parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico, she speaks Spanish and English fluently.

"I don't know what my first language was. As a child, I thought everyone spoke two languages," she told 50 Chittenango High School students last week. "I can't stress to you the importance of education in language."

The executive director of the Spanish Action League of Onondaga County, Alvarado was the second of four speakers in Chittenango's yearlong foreign language series. The series, funded through a Central New York Teaching Center grant, was organized by French teacher Roseann Lorefice, guidance counselor Melissa Weigelt and library media specialist Mary Klucznik.

A former pediatrician and neonatalist, Alvarado left the medical field in the fall to join the Spanish Action League, which provides bilingual services to local Hispanics, including help with jobs, housing, children's services, and domestic violence.

"We get multiple calls every day for bilingual workers. If you can speak two languages, especially Spanish and English, you can get a job "like that,"' she said. "And it's across the board - all types of companies, all types of work, customer service."

Sophomore Adrienne Canino isn't sure what career she wants, but she plans on studying languages in college. She now studies both French and Spanish.

"Our teachers always tell us how important it is to learn languages, but it's really great to hear it from someone who is out there using their languages," she said.

Sophomore John Howe, a Spanish student, found it interesting to hear about the struggles of immigrants who do not speak English.

"It really opened my eyes to what other people go through when they're in a place where no one understands you," he said.

Alvarado told students that almost any field will gladly welcome an employee with foreign language proficiency. Even though Alvarado grew up speaking Spanish, she still took Spanish classes in both high school and college to improve her skills. She also studied French in high school and college.

"Learning a language can open so many doors," she said, "regardless of what language it is."

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