Jesse Nguyen is a fourth year Economics major from Chicago.
What language(s) do you speak?
Vietnamese and Spanish.
How did you learn Vietnamese?
It’s my first language. I didn’t start speaking English until I was five years old when I went to school. My parents didn’t speak English. Now they kind of do. My dad speaks very well. My mom, well, kind of.
What were the difficulties being schooled outside of your primary language?
I really vividly remember being at a water fountain. This kid walked in front of me. I wanted to say “stop, I’m first” but I couldn’t. I took English as second language classes so I had to get taken out of classes for special instruction. My elementary school didn’t have a Vietnamese population so it wasn’t like anyone could translate for me.
Do you think not having that translation support was bad or do you think that the struggle benefited you?
Well I can empathize really well with people who are learning English. The experience gave me a lot more sympathy for people who live in a country where the primary language is not their native tongue. People look down on people with accents.
How does that come up at Oberlin?
Well I think the whole experience of growing up learning English gave me an interest in learning languages period, which is why I’m interested in studying Spanish. I use that as my motivation to keep on taking more Spanish classes. The combination of all of that is why I want to be an English as a Second Language teacher.
Why are you interested in studying Spanish?
Back in Chicago there’s a huge Spanish speaking population and my family is Vietnamese so I have plenty of reason to speak not just English. A lot of my friends from elementary and high school are Latino and it’s a lot of fun to speak to them in Spanish. I also just think it’s a beautiful language.
How do you use Spanish here outside of classes?
I go to a lot of the Spanish house events. The expectation there is that you speak Spanish if you know it. I have language exchange friends on Skype and Facebook. I also teach Spanish at the elementary school here.
What do you like about academic study of language?
I like using non-academic resources for studying languages. I find a lot of people on the internet who want to learn English in exchange for teaching Spanish, and vice-versa. It keeps the studying fresh, it really does.