Becoming bilingual

Learning English remains the main takeaway from junior's foreign-exchange experience

About a month ago, junior Rodrigo Romero woke up from a dream like no other. In his dream, he heard people speaking English to each other. Spanish is Romero’s first language, and that dream let him know that he was beginning to grasp a second language.

At the beginning of the school year, Romero came to the U.S. from Spain as a foreign exchange student. He knew only basic English and made it his goal to become fluent in the language. Romero’s passion to learn English has grown, and he plans to include it in all aspects of his future.

“I want to live out the American experience and explore more about the culture here,” Romero said. “I feel like my English has improved since the last five months.”

According to Romero, the first two months in the U.S. were the hardest. He found it especially difficult to communicate with students and teachers at school. Math teacher Mary Wheeler says she could tell he was struggling and did her best to communicate with him as a teacher and a friend.

“Rodrigo was pretty quiet when I first met him, and I think he was just getting used to the routines here,” Wheeler said. “I tried to help him by engaging in conversations with him both academically and socially.”

Making friends was also an obstacle Romero says he had to overcome, partially due to the language barrier. At times, Romero says he felt extremely frustrated because his peers had trouble understanding what he was trying to say. But several students eventually reached out and introduced themselves to him, including junior Jackson Meier. When he first met Rodrigo, one of the first things that stuck out to Meier was his humor. Since then, they’ve hung out almost every week. Meier tries his best to guide Romero towards proper English by correcting him when necessary.

“I feel like I’ve been able to help him by teaching him some new words in English and introducing him to the humor here,” Meier said.

Junior Abby Samm met Rodrigo in Precalculus at the beginning of the year. Although his English wasn’t the smoothest, Samm says she still noticed that he made an effort to talk to people in their class and was very friendly. They’ve become close friends, and she always looks forward to their daily conversations.

“At first, I didn’t really know how to communicate with him because his English wasn’t the best,” Samm said. “Since then, his English has improved so much.”

With the help of students and teachers at SHS, Romero became much more confident in his English-speaking abilities and began to come out of his shell, according to Wheeler.

Orchestra teacher Thomas Wright, Romero’s host parent, says he has seen this side of him since he arrived at his home. Thanks to Wright’s foreign-exchange hosting experience, Romero says that Wright was the biggest help of all when it came to learning English. In addition, Wright has been learning Spanish since he was in sixth grade, so he was able to translate and correct Romero when he needed it.

“We’ve worked with a lot of exhange students, so we tend to talk at a slower pace and we choose vocabulary that is simpler,” Wright said. “When he would say something slightly incorrect, we would say ‘A better way to say that would be…’”

Romero says that learning and making mistakes were all part of his journey. He came to the U.S. wanting to learn English and live the “high school experience.” Now that he’s mostly fluent in English, Romero wants his future to lie in the U.S.

“My goal is to go to college here and continue with my American life,” Romero said.

Junior Rodrigo Romero wants to stay in the U.S. for his senior year of high school. To go to his GoFundMe, scan the QR code above.