Reaching Out

Ms. Vo inspires others in her journey of expanding her fluency in English


Lauren Spakowski

Art teacher Ms. Vo extends her knowledge of English and kindness through the school.

Ianne Salvosa, Reporter

In high school, students are encouraged to partake in a foreign language class. Whether it be Spanish, German or French, students typically embark on a journey of learning a new language their freshman year. Through the humorous struggles of the first “bonjour,”“hola,” or “hallo,” the actual rigorous experience of diving into a new language is often overlooked. In a firsthand experience, art teacher Ms. Vo not only had to jump into a new language, but a new culture entirely.

Ms. Vo grew up in Vietnam, leaving the country at the age of 12 with her family to join her grandparents who lived in the United States. Not knowing a word of English prior to her move, Ms. Vo was in for a colossal difference in her surroundings.

“I didn’t realize how different this country would be because I was so little, it didn’t really register in my life that it’s a big change,” Ms. Vo said. 

Upon moving to America, Ms. Vo enrolled in a public middle school, with the same course load of her peers along with an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. To keep up with the new school, language, and culture, Ms. Vo worked hard at her schoolwork and English, staying up late every night to look up directions on how to finish her work. 

Furthermore, students that take foreign language classes know very well that the best way to excel in any language is to practice it regularly. Repetition is imperative to practice pronunciation, grammar, and other facets of language. But Ms. Vo’s new situation presented its hardships very soon after the move.

“I have a problem with being really shy too, so I’m really self conscious of how I’m speaking, so it took me forever to start talking to people,” Ms. Vo said. Being a new student in school is very daunting for anyone who finds themself in that position. Understandably, it’s easy to get nervous in a new place with not knowing any other students. But nevertheless, Ms. Vo found a way to quell her fear of speaking: her peers.

I’ve grown to love English as a language.”

— Ms. Vo

“I started making friends and then I realized that it’s okay to make mistakes,” Ms. Vo said. Eventually, through persistent focus and hard work, she was able to achieve fluency in English, taking her skills further and further everyday in class. In fact, Ms. Vo still considers herself to still be learning English. Luckily, she takes the opportunity of teaching to expand her ability of speaking English. 

“I’m still learning everyday, especially during class, I’ll say stuff wrong all the time and I keep reminding my students to fix my English,” Ms. Vo said, “I think that’s one of the best ways to learn, just from your students.” 

Even though Ms. Vo’s English is impacted by her students, she has an even greater impact on not only her own art students but the whole school as well. 

“She reaches out throughout the whole school to all the faculty but also creating that Be Kind project with the rocks that she sent out,” Mr. Tiemann said. “I’ve seen her be able to reach a lot of people more than just in her own classroom.”

As a matter of fact, Ms. Vo isn’t the only person in Liberty that has learned English through immersion. Senior Suleyman Alasgarli moved to the United States at the age of 7 from Russia, also not knowing any English. 

“I just picked up English around the classroom, at home I’d read books a little bit, but my parents didn’t teach me that kind of stuff,” Alasgarli said. Over time, Alasgarli succeeded in becoming fluent in English and is grateful for the benefits that come along with bilinguality, as well as the connection it gives him to Russia.

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“Being bilingual also allows me to connect better with people from my own country,” Alasgarli said. “I admire where I’m from and what my morals are, all that stuff is from where I’m from originally.” 

For Ms. Vo and many other bilingual people like her, there is so much to be learned from learning a language besides the knowledge of the language. Confidence, new opportunities, and a cultural edge can stem from learning a new language. It will not only set one apart from others, but bring out so many new strengths.

“I think a part of it is that I’m really comfortable being completely myself even though I know I have a lot of flaws,” Ms. Vo said. “I’m proud I’m able to be someone I thought I couldn’t be.”