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Student body is its own United Nations in Hinsdale District 86

Alexis Dellaportas, a junior from Oak Brook, is studying Spanish at Hinsdale Central High School, but grew up hearing her parents speak Greek at home. | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media  Jan. 2014
Alexis Dellaportas, a junior from Oak Brook, is studying Spanish at Hinsdale Central High School, but grew up hearing her parents speak Greek at home. | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Jan. 2014

Spanish, German, French and Latin are taught in Hinsdale High School District 86 schools, but the students know many more languages than those, because they learned them at home.

Families of students who attend Hinsdale South High School speak 46 different languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese.

Actually the languages the farthest apart on the alphabetical list are Akan, spoken in Ghana and parts of the Ivory Coast, and Yoruba, one of the four official languages of Nigeria, spoken by more than 20 million people.

The most common language, other than English, is Spanish, spoken in the homes of 125 Hinsdale South students. Next most common is Lithuanian, spoken by 46 Hinsdale South families.

Among Hinsdale Central families, 36 different languages are spoken, the most common being Mandarin and Arabic.

The statistics come from the students themselves who have the option of filling out a home language survey when they register.

The parents of Alexis Dellaportas, a Hinsdale Central junior from Oak Brook, speak Greek at home. Dellaportas said she understands Greek better than she can speak it.

When she was young, her parents sent her to Greek school to learn the language. She went to the school for two or three years.

“I was more interested in doing American things,” Dellaportas said.

At Hinsdale Central, she studies Spanish.

“It’s surprising, but learning Spanish is more difficult than Greek,” Dellaportas said.

Jennifer Lawrence, the interim chair of Hinsdale Central’s World Languages Department, draws informally on the experience of students whose parents are immigrants.

When she teaching grammar in a different language, Lawrence said she asks students who are bilingual, “Is that similar to what you do in your language?

“Kids like to make that connection,” she said.

Many students at Hinsdale Central have experienced other cultures because they have traveled outside the United States on family vacations or for charitable work. Lawrence asks them about their experiences.

“I draw on everybody. It gets them excited to share.”

To make students more aware of the bilingualism around them, in the fall, the department held a World Languages Week, giving students passports they could get stamped as they downloaded a song in a foreign language, and tracked down five students who speak two languages, two teachers outside the World Languages Department who speak a foreign language, and a newspaper or article in a language other than English; plus other assignments.

“There are things you can learn experiencing other cultures . . . things not taught in a book,” Lawrence said.

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