As-salamu alaykum: South Asian On Stuyvesant’s Language Department

Including languages from South Asia and the Middle East will not only benefit the large population of South Asian students at Stuyvesant, but will also diversify Stuyvesant’s language department.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Julia Shen

Stuyvesant’s world language department currently offers six languages: French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, German, and Latin. Yet many students feel that if a language such as Bangla, Hindi, or Arabic were to be implemented as a possibility to fulfill the requirement for the Stuyvesant Diploma, they would feel much more comfortable with intertwining themselves with their own culture.

Most South Asian students were completely fluent in their language before coming to the United States. As immigrants who then came to the United States, however, they were forced to adopt English in an English-dominated environment, slowly losing their native tongue. “[Hindi is] a language that I’ve always wanted to learn, and having the opportunity to learn it during school would be a great asset because I don’t have time to devote to other interests,” sophomore Pulindu Weerasekara said. “I cannot write or read it. I can speak it and I can get a basic understanding of what a speaker is saying, but no one around me says it, so I can’t speak it fluently.”

Exposure to new types of foreign languages seems to be a major part of getting languages into classrooms. This is especially true with feeder programs, which aim at specializing in different languages. “I think freshman me would’ve still picked French with the mindset that it was a good language. But I also think that some of it is being exposed to non-European languages. So I grew up with French language in middle school, so freshman me wouldn’t have done Bengali, but if it was me now, I would’ve definitely taken Bengali,” senior Rubaiyat Shahrin said. Shahrin also expressed how difficult it is to pick up Bangla again, as she does not maintain the vocabulary and sentence structure that she once had back in Bangladesh.

For others, learning their native tongue gives them something to look forward to by helping them embrace their own cultures while learning the language. “I do enjoy [Spanish] somewhat, but I don’t feel a spark with it. […] if I don’t find enjoyment in doing it, then why am I doing it? Is it just to get the Stuyvesant diploma? I feel like there should be more options so students don’t feel that way and I think the purpose of school at Stuy is to offer great opportunities, and I think adding Bangla would be one of those great opportunities that Stuy could offer,” junior Sayeb Khan said. Khan also expresses how religious knowledge comes with understanding Bangla, as the ability to understand Bangla can also assist with understanding translations of the Quran.

Students who are taking the language they are already fluent in may also have an unfair advantage compared to those who are not already well-versed in the language. “There’[re] a bunch of kids in my class who already speak Spanish at home. Even the teacher recognizes that fact. I feel like those kids have an unfair advantage because there are some Spanish-speakers that take non-AP Spanish for an easy grade, and I can’t blame them because I would do the same. In fact, I’m glad that they do that because they get into their own culture as well,” Khan said. The purpose of a language is to not only allow students to delve deeper into the language, but to do so with the pride people take in their own cultures as well.

So why are languages like Arabic, Bangla, and Hindi being held back while other languages are getting the stamp of approval from the city to be put into classrooms? Assistant Principal of World Languages Francesca McAuliffe explained that there is a lengthy process to proceed from wanting a language inside of classrooms to actually having teachers who are willing to teach said languages. “I don’t know how many Bangla certified teachers there are in New York. We can’t hire teachers that aren’t certified. I’ve said since I started as a world language teacher 18 years ago that we are far behind other countries where other students can start reading and writing. There are a lot of steps when it comes to certifying teachers and you need to have a minimum of five sections in order to have an in-depth course,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe encourages students to start to plant a seed for these growing languages, especially those such as Arabic, in an attempt to influence students in the future to take language courses that they never would’ve taken. “My parents were both born in Italy and I grew up bilingual [...] My mom said you know that language, you should take another, and because of that I went to Spanish and became a certified Spanish teacher. I’m now a part of a community that sings old classical Spanish music and I’m very happy that I didn’t focus on just the Italian. It might be a good start to bring in educators of Arabic [who] can then be formalized by the city and then continue from there,” McAullife said.

To include languages from South Asia and the Middle East may serve benefits for both the large population of South Asian students at Stuyvesant and educators by diversifying Stuyvesant’s language department. The South Asian community at Stuyvesant may look big on paper, but further representation through diversifying the language program can verify that these numbers are culturally represented.