When Pascack Valley senior Natalia Chinchilla was 10 years old, she felt like a “foreigner” in America, her own country.
“I knew for a fact I was different because of the reaction that my classmates made, probably unconsciously, when I said I could speak fluent Spanish,” Chinchilla said. “It made me feel like an outsider.”
It wasn’t until Chinchilla was 12 years old that she began “improving her technique” in Spanish once again.
“When I went to Costa Rica [in 2016], I had a rude awakening. My grandpa does not hold back on his words, and when I would speak English to my sister, he would tell me to speak Spanish,” Chinchilla said.
Chinchilla and fellow senior Angela Song have both been awarded Seals of Biliteracy for their work in various languages including Spanish, Italian, and Korean.
“All of our students have been incredibly successful after four years in the language program, so the award is a way to say, ‘Hey, [you’re] awesome at this,’” District Supervisor of World Language Noemi Rodriguez said.
Out of the handful of seniors that have been awarded the seal, Song and Chinchilla are the only two who have earned two different biliteracy awards for two different languages. Chinchilla received a seal in both Spanish and Italian whereas Song earned her seals in Spanish and Korean.
“Earning the seal allowed me to reflect on how much I connect with my family’s heritage and traditions,” Song said.
During the Seal of Biliteracy Ceremony on Dec. 3, Chinchilla and Song presented the senior names that had been awarded the Seal of Biliteracy. Song said she was “honored” to have been given the chance to announce those who had been awarded alongside her.
“I was proud of everyone else who received the seal,” Song said. “It was a great feeling saying their names and seeing their faces as I [announced them].”
Both Song and Chinchilla had taken the Seal of Biliteracy test – the exam is taken to assess one’s proficiency in their spoken languages in order to be awarded the Seal of Biliteracy – late last year. However, due to coronavirus restrictions, they were confined to their rooms for the duration of the exam.
During the test, Chinchilla recalled it being much “different” compared to the stories she had heard from her older sister, PV alumni Estefania Chinchilla, who had also taken the Seal of Biliteracy exam the year before.
“When my sister was talking about taking the test, she said she was fooling around with her friends during the breaks and was having fun,” Chinchilla said. “I definitely did not experience that. Mine was more serious where we would sit down and get to work.”
Comparatively, Song found that taking the test at her home was “distracting”.
“It was pretty difficult taking the test at home,” Song said. “When you are at home, you’re surrounded by many distractions and you don’t really want to do school work”
Both Chinchilla and Song didn’t speak English as their first language. Chinchilla grew up speaking Spanish, while Song had known Korean since birth.
“I have spoken Korean for my whole life, so it feels really good to get this seal and affirm my identity in being Korean,” Song said.
While Spanish was Chinicilla’s first language, she had only begun speaking Italian six years ago in middle school.
“I had the opportunity in seventh grade to either stay with Spanish or go into Italian and once I chose Italian, I fell in love with its language, music, and culture, which then started to develop into a love for [all] languages.”
Though Chinchilla is “in love” with Italian now, she didn’t always have her heart set on the language. When first coming into high school, she “briefly” considered taking up French. And while she hasn’t taken the language yet, she plans to learn French alongside many other languages including Mandarin, Norwegian, Arabic, and Korean in the future.
“I am looking at [learning different languages] as a way to be a global citizen in a world that communicates with other people outside of our own country,” Chinchilla said.