Bilingual students at Bearden discuss having ‘two brains inside’ them


Taylor A. Johnson

Bearden freshmen Priscilla Cho and Abdullah Salam work together in Mr. Sandy Hughes’s Latin class.

Helen Law, Staff Writer

America has always had the reputation of being a “melting pot” for containing in its expansive borders a vast, colorful swathe of ethnic groups from almost every corner of the globe. This diversity is definitely exemplified by Bearden, a microcosm reflecting the individual cultures found around the nation.

Walk down Bearden’s hallways, and in the cacophony of many voices, various languages can be be extracted. Bilingualism is a fairly common trait among many at Bearden, in both the students and teachers.

Freshmen Abdullah Salam and Priscilla Cho – who speak fluent Arabic and Korean, respectively – are two of the many bilingual speakers at Bearden who have a fascinating perspective for understanding the world.

“Arabic is a bit more specific with expression than English would be,” Salam said.

Salam describes Arabic as a poetic language because of the number of analogies intrinsic to the language. People and things are understood in comparison to other things metaphorically. Each metaphor and analogy is specific and used only in certain situations, like idioms.

“So a lot of the time, in Arabic, when women are talking with each other, or gossiping about another woman….she would say that [the woman being gossiped about is] as hard as a rock, and that means that she’s really tough to understand or tough to get ideas to get across to,” Salam said.

“That’s how it would translate.”

Arabic is heavily gender-specific, where female and male nouns have to coordinate with male and female actions, Salam said. Idioms are used specifically for a certain gender, such as the one he outlined above.

The two both agreed that having more than one format to recognize an idea or feeling leads to lesser dependency on language to understand and form thoughts.

“I think our scope of thinking gets bigger as we learn more languages because we have more background knowledge of people in other countries,” Cho said. “People with only one language are limited to this area.

“[Bilinguals] tend to think outside the box.”

By diminishing the linguistic restrictions for understanding the world, Cho and Salam are open to more abstract concepts.

“Instead of being limited to only one way of thinking, or only one set of language that you’re limited to, you have another way…a wider scope,” Salam said.

As a result, the two use their bilingualism as a tool often in daily life.

“When I think in my head, on tests or comprehensive activities, I sometimes think in English, and I sometimes come back to Korean,” Cho said. “Like I just keep on rotating each language and it just helps me think better.”

For Salam, writing outlines or any planning for a larger piece of written work in Arabic is easier than in English.

“I like to plan [essays] in Arabic, because it makes more sense to me,” Salam said. “I plan it in Arabic, and then I write it in English.

“In the Arabic writing stage, I put the ideas down, but then English kind of helps me narrow it down to what I really want to put on the paper.”

Cho sometimes has dreams where a person she knows speaks in a language that said person doesn’t speak in real life.

“Sometimes, I speak Korean and all of a sudden, someone speaks English to me; that happens in dreams,” Cho said. “With my English friends, sometimes I speak Korean to them [in my dreams], which happens a lot.”

Americans with one foot in another culture are able to observe how American culture is fusing into other parts of the world.

“I’ve noticed a lot of Western music has gone into Arabic countries, like eight years ago, rap was not there,” Salam said.  “Now, with its fame here in the US, we have more Arabic rappers.”

Korean music has also felt the shift, Cho said, with “English lyrics being added to Korean songs” to make them trendy.

Bilinguals balance sometimes difficult internal language phenomenon and different cultures, which Cho eloquently summed up.

“We have two brains inside of us,” Cho said.