Estudiante y maestra

My name is Gabriella, but I was first given the name Gabrielle. When I was in about the fourth grade, my mom and I started talking about how Gabriella sounded much better with my middle name. Without much more discussion she went and did all of the official paperwork to change my name. Needless to say, with either name, most people call me Gabbie. 

I don’t blame them, it is easier to say, and I have been known to gab, a lot! Really, my uncle used to throw money my way when he needed some quiet. After mastering the English language though, I was exposed to a second language, Spanish. With both sides of my family being closely tied to agriculture, I was around spanish-speakers regularly. 

Learning Spanish as a Second Language

Wait, if I learn a second language I can talk MORE? I am in. 

Okay, that isn’t the only reason I wanted to learn a second language. Growing up, my dad had a large trucking company, I was one of the “boss’ daughters.” At the ranch, I was the “boss’ grand-daughter.” I absolutely despised that. I just wanted to be, “Gabriella.” I knew that I wanted to have a tool in my back pocket, a wild card, something to level the playing field and help me build strong working relationships with all of the individuals I was around.

Beginning in High School, I chose to take a Spanish class for my second language requirement to graduate. The more I learned in class, the more I wanted to use my skills outside of class. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ranch to be able to share what I had learned with the guys.

Becoming Bilingual in Spanish

The places and spaces I have been able to use my Spanish speaking skills have been astonishing. My junior year in high school the picking crew boss had a family emergency down in Mexico the week pear picking was to begin. My brother took me out into the orchard, and I was able to communicate with all of the men to get the identification and paperwork I needed to get them hired and on payroll. 

The Benefits of Learning Spanish as a Second Language

There are many different reasons a person may want to learn a second language. For me, it was because of las tortillas a manos. I am just teasing, although homemade tortillas were a definite added bonus. When you learn a second language, many opportunities will arise for you to use the language. One of my favorite experiences to date was the internship I did down at the Harris Feeding Company, the feedlot and at Harris Ranch Beef, the packing plant. During my work in both places in Central California, the looks were priceless when I first showed up to process cattle with all Spanish-speaking and male crew. What is this fair skinned, blonde haired, colored eyed girl going to do here? The manager knew I’d be alright when he dropped me off because he knew what tool I had in my back pocket, the language. The guys were on break, they made a few comments as they had their snacks and a cold drink, we stood around for a minute, and then I couldn’t hold it in any longer…I started asking a lot of questions in Spanish. They looked around at each other as if to say, “What?! I didn’t see that coming.” Word travels FAST on a feedyard, before I would move to another crew to work with them they would already know that I spoke Spanish. 

One of my favorite moments was when I was riding in the pick-up to a different processing chute on the feedlot with the older man who always ran the hydraulic levers on the squeeze chute. He spent most of his days sitting at a picnic table up above the chute where he opened and shut all of the gates on the chute to keep cattle held tightly while they got their vaccinations. Keep in mind too that he had worked on the yard for more years than I was old and spoke strictly Spanish. Anyway, we hopped in the pick-up that day and he asked me in Spanish how to say a word in English. I thought to myself, wow, I had really done it. I had gained his respect, he is willing to now be vulnerable with me, making me the teacher la maestra and him the student el estudiante. 

When I moved over to the packing facility to gain experience there the funniest moment I encountered with my Spanish was when someone asked me what part of Mexico I was from. Talk about flattered. My accent game is strong. I told them that I actually was born in the U.S. and English is my first language. They complimented me on my Spanish and explained that people in certain parts of Mexico have very fair skin and colored eyes, so they thought I was from that region.

Using the Spanish Language

Next up, I traveled to Italy in 2015 with my Aunt and Mom after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree. I didn’t know any Italian nor did I grab a book on the common phrases and words like a good tourist might. When we got into the train station to head to our next stop I was surrounded by a language I didn’t know, yet I could see the connection between Italian and Spanish. Needless to say, we never missed a train and on our way to the Venice airport the taxi driver asked me where I learned my Italian. I laughed and told him that I was doing my best at combining my Spanish with what I had heard around me during our two week stay and my best impersonation of an Italian accent. 

After graduating I moved straight to the ranch, I had spent most every weekend and any extended vacations there. Once I lived there full-time though I helped get the 4-H club back up and running in the community. We had a wonderful group and my handy dandy language tool came in handy AGAIN. 90% or better of the families in the club were spanish-speakers. Their momma’s knew how to work and were right there for you whenever you needed to get something done. When I would go to their homes to take pictures of their projects and see how their animals were doing, I would always get invited in for dinner. They welcomed me into their homes and fed me tacos, sopitos, and homemade berry pies, talk about the fastest route to my heart. I loved these families and the kids I would still claim as my own. I truly believe that these connections and relationships were so strong due to the fact that I could communicate in their native tongue. We would take turns being el estudiante y la maestra. They would be very direct when telling me when I was saying something wrong, which I so appreciated. Sorry in advance to the university system, but I wouldn’t be the speaker I am today without the countless individuals in the agricultural community who took the time to teach and correct me. ¡Gracias a mis maestras y maestros del rancho! Te debo.

Bilingual Job Opportunities

Upon returning to my hometown, a job opportunity presented itself to teach in the district that I graduated from. This district has my loyalty because it served me so well during my time as un estudiante. I interviewed for a position in the Two-Way Immersion Program where I would be una maestra. I didn’t have my Master’s in Teaching nor a Bachelor’s in Education, but I had the language. I didn’t feel very confident that I would get the job, but I put my best effort forward and wanted to throw my hat in the ring. I ended up getting the position, they were able to put me on a restricted license while I received my Master’s, and I taught 5th grade there for the past four years. Every school day I taught half of my day in Spanish and the other half in English. 

Even though I am una maestra, I am simultaneously un estudiante too. Sometimes I get discouraged by the amount of words or things I don’t know, but then I stop myself and think about the amount of things I still don’t know about my native language. There are words I still have to look up, commas I undoubtedly put in the wrong place, and grammar rules that apply sometimes. The name of the game is to give yourself some dang grace. If you are interested in learning a second language, I guarantee that you have someone nearby that is just waiting for you to give them the green light because they would love to be your maestra. Once you start your journey as un estudiante, sit back and watch the doors open up to connect with people and beyond. Oh, and don’t forget to thank all of your maestras!

  1. Bridgette says:

    I loved this post Gabby! I had no idea what your life after high school looked like or how you became fluent in Spanish. Thanks for sharing this!


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