Event Review: Bilingualism Unpacked

By Sara Shahein
Contributor to The Underground

On Wednesday, October 9th DePaul’s Office of Multicultural Student Success teamed up with the Latinx Center and Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority to host “Bilingualism Unpacked.” During the event, attendees listened to a panel of DePaul students and advisors answer questions about multilingualism – the panel’s languages ranged from Spanish to Serbian.

Each of the panelists were asked about their backgrounds and how they learned the languages they know today. Some learned their respective language when they were children, others learned the language in high school and college, and a few spoke the language first and learned English later. The panel noted that they switch languages when speaking with an adult whose native language is not English as a sign of respect and to make the individual feel more comfortable. They likewise discussed the importance of knowing another language and how it allows people to learn more about other cultures or even their own native cultures.

Each panelist was also asked if they had ever traveled abroad, if they spoke a native language abroad, and how were they perceived. A few panelists spoke about being seen as a local and felt more comfortable to take initiative and start up a conversation with locals.

Yet, when asked about the stigma that may arise from being bilingual, one panelist shared an example about having a conversation with someone in Serbian and mentioning that she was from Chicago. The opposite person immediately stopped speaking Serbian and switched to English. In response, the panelist said that she felt disappointed that the gentleman she was speaking to didn’t think she could continue to carry on the conversation if it was in Serbian, despite it being her first language. Other panelists explained that many non-English speakers or struggling English speakers tend to be looked down upon in society, instead of being given translators, assistance, or guidance to encourage them to continue trying to learn English.

The final question posed to the panelists asked whether they had ever denied being bilingual. Much to the surprise of the audience, a few panelists confirmed they had denied their ability to speak another language to others. One panelist explained that she worked in a law firm and it became known that she spoke and understood Spanish. She was quickly asked to translate and interpret, but she did not feel confident enough because she was still in the process of learning Spanish. She told the audience that, when it comes to work, she denies she is bilingual until she feels confident enough in her abilities.

Altogether, “Bilingualism Unpacked” showcased the reasons why someone would want to learn another language. It also taught other multilingual people in the audience how to deal with certain stigmas, present yourself when abroad, appreciate different cultures, and advocate for non-English speakers.

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