A cultural connection: Learning Spanish


Though raised in the same Spanish speaking household, Micaela and Paola Bedolla Garcia have different relationships with the language.

Paola Bedolla Garcia, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), grew up speaking Spanish and took part in the Two Way Immersion (TWI) program at Longfellow Middle School. In the program, most of her academic subjects were taught entirely in Spanish.

In contrast, her sibling, Micaela Bedolla Garcia, a Berkeley High School freshman, said, “I can read and write (in Spanish), but I cannot speak it back.” As a student taking Spanish I this year, “even though I learned Spanish by listening to it, I feel like I’m learning again for the first time,” they said.

For Paola Bedolla Garcia, who tested into Native Speakers Spanish III her freshman year, now having taken the highest AP classes available, taking Spanish at school helps “in speaking to family members and being able to (practice Spanish), because language is a muscle. You need to always train it … if you don’t have people around you to speak to in it, then you’re probably going to lose that language.” 

BHS senior Jasmine Moreira-Cortes was also motivated to take advanced Spanish classes because of her experience growing up and speaking Spanish at home.

“I was afraid that … in going to school (speaking English) for so many hours and then coming back home to speak (Spanish) again, some of my vocabulary might be lost,” Moreira-Cortes said. “Not only that, but I also wanted to take a more challenging class, and even though I am a native speaker, the class has definitely challenged me.”

The different rules, conjugations, and vocabulary used in advanced Spanish classes can pose difficulties for native speakers, who often learn the language in a less structured environment. On top of that, when students don’t answer assignments in academic Spanish, the answers are often marked as wrong. 

“Even though the way that we say it is correct, the teachers are looking for (more) specific language,” said Josefa Landaverde, a junior in Academic Choice (AC). 

“It was new to me to have such formal Spanish when I first started taking (advanced courses at BHS), so it was a little irritating,” Landaverde said. “But once I got to AP Spanish, I understood that (academic Spanish was) what the requirements were for college, so I got more into the hang of (switching) to formal Spanish and understanding when formal was needed.”

Social pressure around speaking Spanish can also drive students to take Spanish language classes at BHS. “Within … the Latinx community, people frown on people who aren’t able to speak the language. They’re like, are you even Mexican or something?” said Paola Bedolla Garcia. “You’re expected to know the language and then when people don’t know, it gets complicated.” 

This social disconnect is what prompted Micaela Bedolla Garcia to take Spanish this year. “It’s almost a rite of passage to know Spanish, and it (can be an) embarrassment to not know it. … Even though I grew up around the language and my family speaks it … I wasn’t able to join in (my friends’ and families’) conversation. It’s definitely a barrier to get past, the shame and embarrassment of not learning the language,” she said.

Though it can be difficult, taking Spanish facilitates deeper cultural connections for Spanish-speaking students. Projects in AP Spanish classes allow students to learn about Spanish-speaking countries around the world. 

“I not only got to learn more about my culture (in AP Spanish), but I got to learn about different other types of cultures,” said Moriera-Cortes. For her, being in Spanish class provided her with a more diverse community at BHS.

“(Taking Spanish) was a way of connecting more with people who looked like me, who wanted to learn more about Spanish in general and who they are culturally,” Moriera Cortes said.

Being able to attain a deeper understanding of Latinx culture through the lens of Spanish is important to Micaela Bedolla as well. “It’s pretty cool to have a connection to a language and see it in the classroom,” she said.