News from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla.

Sydney Cabana challenges three languages

April 1, 2017

Taking a second language is an expectation for some and a requirement for others in school, but what happens when you take it a step further? Junior Sydney Cabana is a trilingual Taiwanese-Cuban American who takes Spanish in school. Many students pick up second languages from their parents and Cabana is no different.

Although many students live in households with parents who aren’t American, it is a bit rarer to find cases like Cabana’s where each parent is a different ethnicity. Cabana’s mother is Taiwanese and her father is Cuban, butCabana herself was born in America. “We do Hispanic culture and sometimes  it mixes with the Asian culture,” Cabana said. “For dinner we would haveyellow rice and chicken with miso soup.”

Cabana takes advantage of her skills by using them in her daily life. “In Spanish class, occasionally when I cannot come up with the Spanish words to
say, I will blurt it out in Chinese,” Cabana said.

Even beyond just communication, Cabana had once written her Spanish essay in Chinese because her teacher had jokingly told her to. Cabana says that a perk of speaking another language is knowing “when people are talking about me.”

People whose parents speak another language typically learn their second language from there, but Cabana didn’t just pick up the language she studied  the language in school and learned from teachers and experience. “When I was little [my mom] made me watch cartoons and go to language school,” Cabana said.

From there she has improved her skills by helping others improve their skills. “I serve as an assistant teacher at a Chinese school every Sunday,” Cabana said. “I teach 4 and 5-year olds basic Chinese.” This gives her an opportunity to spread the knowledge as well as help the community.

Despite knowing the language because of her culture, Cabana didn’t just learn these languages because of that. She learned them through her own interests. “I really like Asian culture, like anime,” Cabana said. “I think it’s really interesting, so I guess that influences me to learn the language.” Furthermore, it allows her to explore cultures different to her own. According to Cabana, one significant benefit of adopting a new language is that it simultaneously exposes you to an entirely new culture.

The previous summer Cabana took a trip with her family to Taiwan. She takes this time to immerse herself in the language and improve her skills. The most commonly spoken languages in Florida are Spanish and English according to MLA’s language map. So, although she has chances to practice her Spanish, it becomes difficult to find opportunities to practice other languages.

“It’s hard to practice my Chinese here in the United States,” Cabana said, “My sister and I always split ourselves up during hiking camps so that we wouldn’t only speak English to each other. It gives us a chance to interact with Taiwanese kids our age and really practice our language.”

Being able to communicate with people is one matter, but Cabana has been able to build relations around this as well. “Speaking multiple languages has enabled me to make countless friendships abroad; if I couldn’t speak the language, there would be no way for me to go off with my friends

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