By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Bilingual job seekers have leg up
For school, government posts, extra language skills are a plus
Placeholder Image

Ty McCormack, a 2010 North Hall High School graduate, knows well the benefits of learning a second language. He began Mandarin Chinese classes as a ninth-grader and is continuing the language at Clemson University.

He chose Mandarin instead of Spanish because he did not want to wait until his junior and senior years to begin his language classes, and because he was up to the challenge.

"Having an extra foreign language sets you apart," he said. "Chinese allows you to access 1.3 billion people you wouldn't have access to, which makes you a greater asset to the company."

Knowing another language can also assist in getting a job in local school systems, depending on the curricula and student demographics.

"It's not part of the required job description to apply, but often it says ‘bilingual preferred,' particularly with a classified position. That's someone in a paraprofessional or office staff role who has a lot of contacts with parents and the community," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

"It depends upon the position ... but if there were two candidates of equal abilities and backgrounds and qualifications and one was bilingual, that would give them the edge."

At the school level, knowing a second language, particularly one spoken by students, helps teachers and other employees develop a better relationship with parents and families.

"I can speak with parents without having someone to translate for me," said Melissa Fraser, an English to Speakers of Other Languages teacher at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

"Someone once said to me, ‘When you speak to someone in their second language, you speak to their mind. But if you speak to someone in their first language, you speak to their heart.'"

Fair Street has a higher percentage of bilingual teachers than other Gainesville schools because the IB program requires students be taught in their native language, either from a teacher who speaks it or from lessons on the IB website.

Laurie Ecke, IB coordinator at West Hall High School, believes with this goal, having more bilingual teachers would be beneficial.

"We had a student from Vietnam who was (an English language learner)," Ecke said. "We had to utilize another
student there who is fluent in Vietnamese and English. It becomes kind of a who-you-can-get-to-help kind of thing, and when the language is less common, it might be a student or a community leader."

If no one at a school is proficient to speak a language with parents or students, the school must contract out a translator or use state-funded computer software to send letters and forms home.

The No. 1 problem for teachers who only speak English is communication, Fraser said.

"They have to have a translator. They can't send notes home, even little notes in the agenda. But once they have access to a translator, they have no problem at all," she said.

Carrie Woodcock, dual language coordinator at World Language Academy, said between 80 percent and 90 percent of the school's teachers are bilingual or have some proficiency in another language.

"We have a select number of positions for teachers who are teaching in English," Woodcock said. "We have other positions where you must be bilingual. Do they have to be from another country? No, but they have to be proficient at that level."

Woodcock said she determines potential employees' proficiency level during the interview process.

"I typically just ask them to tell me about themselves and their experiences and then I say, ‘OK, now tell me in Spanish,'" she said. "I can tell pretty quickly their level of academic proficiency. It's one thing to ask about travels but talking about teaching is a different set of vocabulary."

The trend toward bilingualism is noted at institutions of higher education. At North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, some education majors are required to minor in Spanish.

"Not that they're going to teach Spanish, but they feel comfortable talking to the parents," said Bob Michael, dean of the College of Education at North Georgia.

"Particularly as it becomes more and more competitive to get a job, it's based on what you bring to the table beyond that four-year degree."

For graduates who want to work for the Hall County and Gainesville governments, knowing a second language might not get them as far.

"There are roles and jobs that specifically need persons who are bilingual in English and Spanish. In general, most of the positions don't have a language requirement ... so I don't think being bilingual will give you a head's up," said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center.

"We have some (employees) who are bilingual in English and Spanish. They weren't hired because of that; they were just hired."

Adrian Mixson, director of the Hall County Library System, said because of the interaction between library employees and members of the community, Spanish speakers are pretty vital.

"If you're in this country with the proper papers and are here legally, you can get a good job in this country," Mixson said. "You're a rare commodity."

Regional events