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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Breaking Barriers

After+leaving+El+Salvador%2C+Engineering+Sophomore+Leonidas+Villatores+was+required+to+translate+for+his+parents.
Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker

After leaving El Salvador, Engineering Sophomore Leonidas Villatores was required to translate for his parents.

For most 7-year-olds, the idea of reading — let alone translating — complicated legal documents would be an almost impossible task. For language brokers like engineering sophomore Leo Villatoro, this was a daily responsibility when he was little.
Language brokers, unlike traditional translators, are bilingual children who grow up informally translating and interpreting for their parents or relatives.
Villatoro moved to the United States from El Salvador and began translating and interpreting for his mother shortly thereafter.
“I started learning and picked up English quickly, vocabulary wise, and I had decent conversational skills,” Villatoro said. “With bill statements or refunds, you know, the bank, anything with legal documents, I would help out.”
Although he picked up English very quickly, Villatoro said the responsibility of acting as his mother’s translator was a heavy burden for a child so young.
“It was hard to translate because I didn’t know a lot of the legal words — it was advanced vocabulary coming from companies and stuff, so it was a lot of pressure and sometimes I felt bad because I saw all my family did for me to have a better life and the only thing that I could do was help them translate this piece of paper,” Villatoro said.
For bilingual education sophomore Alexia Peralta, who speaks both English and Spanish, growing up as a language broker inspired her choice in major.
“As a bilingual educator, I’m sure I’ll run into parents who only speak Spanish, so my being able to translate school policies or information about meetings to parents who only speak Spanish will for sure be a super useful skill,” Peralta said.
Peralta’s background in interpreting and summarizing information from a young age still influences the way she communicates in English and Spanish.
“Sometimes whenever I need to describe something in English to someone I use my Spanish to help me find words to better articulate my thoughts,” Peralta said. “Whenever I’m talking to people I think in both Spanish and English and I respond in whatever language is being used. It definitely affects the way I think about things.”
Acting as her parents’ informal translator also became a source of pride for Peralta.
“I felt important, because I felt that responsibility of helping my parents and a sense of accomplishment because I was able to help them understand.” Peralta said.
Peralta’s background in interpreting and summarizing information from a young age still influences the way she communicates, in both English and Spanish.
“Sometimes whenever I need to describe something in English to someone I use my Spanish to help me find words to better articulate my thoughts,” Peralta said. “Whenever I’m talking to people I think in both Spanish and English and I respond in whatever language is being used. It definitely affects the way I think about things.”
Acting as her parents’ informal translator also became a source of pride for Peralta.
“I felt important, because I felt that responsibility of helping my parents and a sense of accomplishment because I was able to help them understand.” Peralta said.
Diana Garcia, a general studies sophomore, first began translating for her parents before she was fluent in English herself, and still helps interpret English for her parents when necessary.
“When I was four, I went into Pre-K not knowing how to say yes or no or anything, and teachers would yell at me because I didn’t understand,” Garcia said. “They called my mom to the office and there were no translators, so they sat me in the office, 4-year-old little me, having to translate and not know English myself.”
Garcia quickly grew into her role as a language broker, and the responsibility, while sometimes tough, helped her overcome her shyness as a child.
“I always had to translate from English even though I was six so it was really stressful. My personality wasn’t very outgoing and I hate talking on the phone, but it forced me to be outgoing because I couldn’t say no to my parents,” Garcia said.
Being a language broker and, more broadly, being bilingual also helps Garcia feel more connected to her roots.
“If I didn’t know the language I wouldn’t know the culture. Most of my family doesn’t speak English because they only visit,” Garcia said. “I feel more connected to my family and culture, because I have friends who can’t talk to their uncles or grandparents because they don’t speak Spanish, but I can.”
Despite the inherently demanding nature of being a language broker, Villatoro said he is grateful for the way he grew up.
“I’m very friendly. I don’t assume, when I meet a new person, ‘Oh, this person’s from there so we probably won’t get along’ I just hear them out,” Villatoro said. “[Being bilingual] has helped me so much, especially with learning something new; it’s just a little easier. It’s made me more open to other cultures.”

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