She Helps Black & Brown People Affected by Disasters

Learning a language is a beautiful thing. It can help you connect to and communicate with people you normally wouldn’t be able to connect or communicate with. It can help you learn more about yourself. But nowadays, more and more people are using language to advocate for others. Meet Ariel, a health support technician and a Red Cross volunteer who uses her language to help represent others. Read more to find out about her language learning journey and her tips on what helped her learn Spanish.

BGLL: Thank you so much for agreeing to tell your language learning story. Tell us about yourself and what you do.

Ariel: My name is Ariel Wesley.  I currently live in Columbia, SC.  My heritage is West Indian (Trinidad), African American and Native American. I’m a native English speaker. I have an Associate’s Degree in Arts, a Patient Care Technician Certification, and am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Public Health with a concentration in Emergency Management.

Currently, I work as a health support technician in a hospital. The quick and dirty of my job is I’m something between a nurse and a CNA.  When I am not working, I volunteer with Red Cross which is something I’m passionate about. I find it frustrating to see that black and brown people are usually disproportionately affected by disasters and not adequately represented. 

BGLL: What opportunity/opportunities were you able to take advantage of because of your language?

At my previous hospital I was the go-to person on my unit when we didn’t have an interpreter available.  I’m hoping to work on a crash disaster Spanish course at my local Red Cross chapter. 

BGLL: What languages do you know? How did you learn them?

Ariel: There was some Spanish in the house and some Arabic in the house, as I was Muslim from the ages of 11-18.  I always heard bits and pieces of other languages, as I lived in New York until I was 14.  I knew some basic greetings in Arabic and the alphabet in ASL. I can also follow some Italian. 

I took [Spanish] classes initially.  I have taken Spanish from the 7th grade through my freshman year of college (the first attempt).  My great grandfather was Portuguese, but I never got a chance to meet him and learn about that side of the family.  I am a firm believer that if you want to get to know someone, listen to them speak and watch what they eat.  Where I went to school, there were no Portuguese classes, so I decide that Spanish was the next best thing, So, here we are.  

After I improve my fluency in Spanish, I hope to work on ASL. Columbia has a sizable deaf and mute population.

BGLL: What’s the hardest thing about learning Spanish?

Ariel: Sometimes, I get nervous speaking especially with a native speaker.  I always wonder about intonations and colloquialisms. But even harder than, though, is when I am listening to someone speak in Spanish and I struggle to keep up.  I feel embarrassed because they may use a word that I haven’t learned or conjugate in a tense I don’t use on a regular basis.  I am practicing more on Duolingo and practicing with my coworkers who speak Spanish.   

BGLL: Which of your foreign languages is/are your favorite and why?
Ariel: I love speaking Spanish.  I love how involved you are when you speak the language.  But if we are talking about listening to a language, I love listening to Arabic.  Even though I no longer practice Islam, when I’m near a mosque and hear the call to prayer, it stirs something in me. 

BGLL:  What are 3 tips you can offer those who are trying to learn another language?

Ariel:  First, listen to the language. I like listening to the Duolingo Podcast on Spotify on the way to work or if I have some down time. I like this podcast in particular, because it provides context along the way. Second, find people on social media who are interested in learning another language.  I follow Black Girls Learn Languages and Black Bilingual.  I like those pages because I find that everyone is engaged, helpful and they aren’t pretentious. Lastly, if you can, go to local events. My area had events where you can meet other bilinguals/polyglots or volunteer to help others learn.

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