Many students at the high school speak a second language on top of English. Few have the opportunity to use this skill at school. Even fewer are able to do so in a way which helps others.
However, junior Lana Kassis was approached by International Student Adviser Betsy Davis, also her former French teacher, with such an opportunity. Davis asked if she was interested in helping interpret between Arabic and English for freshman Ghadeer Alfarraj, who moved to the U.S. five months ago from Saudi Arabia.
“I thought the idea would be cool,” Kassis said, “Getting to know some new people, just getting to speak and help out.”
Although Kassis was born in the U.S., her parents both speak Arabic and she learned it as her first language. There are a few disparities between the dialect that she and Alfarraj use, but according to Kassis, this does not pose an immense challenge.
Kassis said she met Alfarraj on her first day of school to tell her about the courses at the school. She did notknow at the time that she was going to serve as an interpreter. However, as schedules were being straightened out, Kassis discovered that she had a free block that coincided with Alfarraj’s Algebra I class, taught by Craig Friedland and Indra Ong.
“I had a free block, and I wasn’t really doing anything very important during that time,” Kassis said, “So I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Kassis saids she interprets for Alfarraj whenever she has questions about the material.
“If she has a question, she’ll usually raise her hand, I’ll come over, I’ll explain something to her, I might sit with her for a little bit, see how she’s doing,” Kassis said. “There are two teachers, but if anyone else needs help and she doesn’t, then I’ll help them too.”
Alfarraj said she is appreciative of Kassis and believes that she does a good job. Though she said that she is more comfortable at the high school with the help of an interpreter, she is still working on improving her language skills.
Since math is one of the few subjects for which there are no designated ELL classes, determining whether a student is struggling with the content of the class or with the language is more difficult, according to Davis.
Friedland and Ong agreed that it is important to have an interpreter to help make this distinction.
“In this case, it really separates those issues, it makes the language not a concern,” Friedland said.
Davis said that, unlike a professional interpreter who might serve her position, Kassis is able to be a role model for Alfarraj.
“The students who need the translation might feel more connected to that person than to an adult that might come in,” Davis said.
Davis sees this present situation as a possible preamble to future pairings of interpreters and students learning English, as there are currently no other student interpreters at the high school.
“I think this is sort of a pilot program, but certainly if it’s successful, we want to do everything we can to help kids succeed, learn English, learn their math skills, or whatever the content is, and feel connected,” Davis said.
Kassis said if a student is comfortable with a foreign language, they should be open to helping another who is not fluent in English. She also said that it is vital for students learning English to have access to help from their peers.
“Any time that you can help someone who doesn’t speak the major language in the area, it’s good to help make them feel more comfortable in the school, to make them feel more comfortable with the people in their class,” Kassis said.
Leon Yang can be contacted at [email protected]