World Language Credit Program Honors Bilingual Immigrant and Refugee Students


This post was written by OneAmerica Education Intern Emilee Wu

“I feel honored. Because that’s my language. I don’t really use it that often. I just use it at home. At school I’m afraid to use it.”

This is what Youcef Mohamed (pictured above), a freshman at University of WA Tacoma said when asked about the impact of being recognized and rewarded for his home language. For most students with an immigrant background, it’s hard to forget how it felt stepping into a new school in another country for the first time.
As an immigrant student myself, I remember how easy it is to feel scared and left out at school. The language is different. The way people look is unfamiliar. The social norms seem alien and foreign. It is daunting to embrace a new environment, especially for students who grew up in another country and now have to relearn everything they know.
I grew up in Taiwan and speak fluent Chinese and Taiwanese. I moved to the US when I was 11, and for a long time I was embarrassed by how little English I spoke, afraid of my classmates making fun of my accent, and even felt ashamed of my own identity as a non-English speaker.
It didn’t get much easier even after I learned English. I was in 9th grade when I could comfortably communicate in English, as it took about 3 years to learn the language and modify my Chinese accent to the point where I didn’t feel too self conscious every time I spoke.  However, learning the language didn’t change the way I related to the world around me; English is still the dominant language, and in my mind my native languages were still things that could embarrass me.  Sometimes at school I would accidentally say things in Chinese in the middle of my sentence during a conversation.  It was embarrassing and I wanted to avoid it because it signaled to others that I was still learning English. And while I eventually learned to laugh it off, in my mind it was still something that I would tell myself to never ever do again.
The need to assimilate and “fit in” is something that many immigrant students like myself face. For me, failing to assimilate meant social rejection when no one gets what you are trying to tell them and people frown and stare at you in confusion because your mannerism and speaking style are foreign.   As an immigrant student learning English, I simply didn’t have the luxury to just “be myself” – I needed to learn English quickly to assimilate to fit in.
Learning the new culture was a long and delicate process for me.  My parents didn’t speak English either, and naturally could not guide me through the process. For a few years I spoke very little and was not involved in school at all. I did do a lot of community service, however, as I discovered that it is something I could do without having to speak much.

I later learned that I wasn’t alone. From speaking to other immigrant students, I found that learning to fit in is a difficult process for most people, and it had also discouraged many other English language learners from being involved in school and reaching their full potential.

Over the years I worked hard and gradually overcame the language barriers and the feeling of inadequacy I had as an immigrant student in grade school. To my surprise, what really made the difference for me was being able to learn about my own culture in college and see that the culture I grew up in is valued and respected in classroom discussions.

I wanted to devote my time to improving the lives of other people with an immigrant background, and eventually became involved with OneAmerica. As an intern here, I have had the opportunity to work on outreach efforts about a program that changes this dynamic and instead honors bilingual students and where they came from.  It’s called the World Language Credit Program.  In this program, bilingual students can receive academic credits for knowing another language.
It is a fantastic program that I think should be implemented throughout the school system and utilized by all immigrant students, as it celebrates and validates their skills and experiences.  As described by Roxana Norouzi--the Director of Education & Integration Policy at OneAmerica, it actually builds positive identity in students, as it “allows them to bring their whole selves to the classroom, in opposed to leaving who they are at home, outside of the classroom.”  If I had had this opportunity, I would have felt much more welcome and accepted in school. At home I still speak my native languages ---Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese--which I can read and write in.  It would have made a world of difference knowing that my experience---though different—actually counts for something. 

NEW - This video has been translated into 11 Languages, with Arabic and Russian on the way! Click Here to watch this video in your language of choice!

The World Language Program helps students fulfill their language credit requirement, which in turn gives them the option of taking other classes that challenge and interest them.  Had there been a World Language Credit Program at my high school I would have had the opportunity to take a test and receive up to 4 high school credits, which would have opened up my schedule to take other challenging classes that would have made me even more competitive for college.  But it does much more than that; for immigrant students, who often feel the need to give up who they are in order to fit in to their new country, this program shows them that their background contributes to diversity, and is valued highly by the school system.

OneAmerica and partners through the Road Map Project, a region-wide effort aimed at improving education to drive dramatic improvement in student achievement from cradle to college and career, and English Language Learner Work Group have translated the video into the top 13 languages of the Road Map Region of South King County, so that more parents and community members know about this program and the opportunity it provides for their children.  Through the translations, parents and community can see how the knowledge of home language can be an advantage for students in both their education careers and in their personal lives.  Help us spread the word about this program so that more parents and students know that this opportunity is available to them.  Here are some things you can do to help:

Share the World Language Credit Video on Facebook

Host a screening at your school , church or community center

Watch the video together with your parent or child and discuss what home language means to you and how you will keep learning.

 “I can’t believe my language is being recognized!”


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