Three students navigate high school while learning to speak English


Laney Wardell

Senior Manuel Trejo from Sonora, Mexico, junior Julian Sandoval from Chuhuahua, Mexico, and sophomore Bang Nguyen from Vietnam.

From picking out a prom dress, to finishing that one essay for American History, to navigating a football game, high school can foster a multitude of challenging situations, both socially and academically. 

Now imagine that you do not speak English. This is the case for twenty-six students on campus, thirteen of which are enrolled in Sra. Rios’ ELL class sixth hour. 

 Manuel Trejo

Manuel Trejo was born in Phoenix, but grew up in Sonora, Mexico surrounded by constant streams of Spanish, colorful family members, and culture. Waterways and small houses snake their way through the town and make up the environment and community. 

Since moving to the United States, Trejo’s surrounding environment has changed to an area characterized by cookie-cutter houses, huge cities, and constant traffic. One of the most noticeable differences for Manuel is the English language he is unfamiliar with. 

As a senior, Manuel is no stranger to school. Living most of his life in Mexico, he is used to lessons taught in Spanish. Manuel explained that “School was very easy but here it is hard.” His classes, since they are taught in English, prompt some confusion. “I want to ask something but I don’t know how to do it,” Trejo said. 

I make friends very easy but here it’s hard

— Manuel Trejo

Another difficulty he encounters while in school is the lack of friendships that he was once used to in Mexico. “In almost every class I was sitting in my own space in silence… in Mexico I was a person very cheerful very open and I make friends very easy but here it’s hard.” 

Despite the difficulty he has in his classes, Trejo still has some things to look forward to at the end of the day. “I play basketball and play guitar and I work at McDonalds.”  A trip back to Mexico is anticipated with the upcoming winter holiday. Manuel said, “We celebrate Christmas.” “I am excited to go back to my family in Mexico.” 

 Julian Sandoval

Born in Chihuahua Mexico Julian Sandoval also knows what it’s like to grow up in a crowded city. Full of culture, the city was known very well to him since his first language is Spanish. Located to the right side of Sonora, Mexico, Chihuahua has a similar climate and landscape. Tightly packed buildings clutter in the city and the streets are packed with life. 

Last year Julian moved to the United States. 

Upon arriving, one of his first challenges was the fact that the native language is English. Coming from a Spanish speaking country like Mexico it was hard for him at first to understand what was happening.  

However, there is always a bright side to every problem. Julian said, “I like the schools from here because they have more stuff to do.” Despite the language barrier that he faces every day, Julian still manages to appreciate where he has come from and where he is now.  

Once he gets home from school his day gets immediately better because he is no longer getting bombarded with a foreign language.  Sandoval explained that him and his family “play games [and] eat Mexican food” together at home. Julian likes to fall back on his family for extra support similar to the way he does with the English Language Learner class in school.  

Living in the United States, Julian said, “I miss Mexico for the language.” School in Mexico was very different for Julian because his classmates understood each other and spoke Spanish. Learning a different language is easier when you’re surrounded by people who are also learning. 

In his ELL class Julian works on his school assignments with other classmates who don’t speak fluent English. Julian said, “ELL helps me a lot with the essays that I need to do” 

The holiday season is a favorite for Julian because he celebrates Christmas in Chihuahua. He looks forward to the winter break so he can visit with his family. 

 Bang Nguyen 

In June this year, Bang Nguyen voyaged from Vietnam with his family in order to live in the United States. The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, is a very crowded city with lots of people coming and going. Vietnam is in the southeast part of Asia and is known for their food and coastlines. 

The differences in the city arrangement from Arizona to Vietnam is drastic. 

The capital of Vietnam is full of tall buildings and close quarters. The spread out landscape of the Gilbert suburbs is something that Bang is not used to. Since he has only been in the United States for half a year, Bang still does not have a complete grasp on the culture and language here in Arizona. 

School is something that he has yet to get a full understanding of. Back home in Vietnam, Bang learned English in school. Back in Vietnam, they teach students who went to Bang’s school, English. Bang said, “In Vietnam I used to learn English and my score so bad.” 

However, since living in Arizona he has learned a little bit more than what he previously knew. “When I hear you I listen to you talk and it’s so difficult.” One of his biggest difficulties for Bang is understanding people when they talk. This is something that he desperately wants to change because he likes interaction a lot. “I don’t answer and they think I’m not friendly.” Living in Arizona for six months, Bang has noticed a couple of things that he misses, mostly “friends and food.” He still talks to some of his friends who live back in his old hometown. Fortunately for him, his family helps fill the void that was created when he moved. 

A couple of things he enjoys are “stay in the house and eating with each other.” Bang plans to spend his first Christmas in the United States with his family that lives in the country. “I can’t wait”