Creating Connections Through Language Learning

Christina Estrada at her college graduation

My parents are from Mexico, and in our home, bilingualism was highly valued and important. I didn’t always get that impression from others, and it wasn’t until I took a Spanish language course in college that I realized my experience with learning Spanish in high school had been missing so many crucial components.

That realization coupled with volunteering to teach adult learners English made me very passionate about pursuing a career as a Spanish teacher. I’ve now been a teacher for eight years and have been a Spanish language teacher at KIPP Navigate Community Prep in East San José for the past three. 

Teaching Spanish is a way to get kids excited about learning a second—or even third—world language, and I see firsthand that this supports students in building empathy and widening their perspectives. I try very hard in my classroom to break down the mindset of “us vs. them.” I emphasize that what’s different to us is normal for others and vice versa. I’m excited to use Spanish as a vehicle to explore different parts of who we are and then leverage that to make connections to and with people who may look or sound different from us.

I’m excited to use Spanish as a vehicle to explore different parts of who we are and then leverage that to make connections to and with people who may look or sound different from us.

A big part of the curriculum in my classroom is to explore the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries. I tend to organize around major cultural holidays. For example, on Halloween, we’ll dive into comparing death practices of different cultures. Recently, we learned about the Vietnamese death anniversary. Exploring the concept of how cultures in different parts of the world honor and celebrate their loved ones who’ve passed is something students really enjoy and get invested in.

Christina Estrada teaching a Spanish class

And as important as it is to learn about other cultures, I also want my students to see themselves reflected in our curriculum. I want them to continue developing awareness of their own identities and how their identities are intersectional. We do a lot of exploration to get them thinking and talking about their unique identities—what it means to be raised here on the east side of San José and also being from Vietnam or from Mexico or having roots in the Philippines, for example. For me, it is crucial to emphasize empathy, understanding, and self-awareness at school.

Part of this is celebrating different heritage months like Latinx Heritage Month (celebrated September 15-October 15). But what is ideal for me is to celebrate heritage day in and day out. Throughout Latinx Heritage month we learned about and celebrated the underdogs. We know about Cesar Chavez and other big names, but there are so many others doing the hard work that aren’t as recognized. To me, that is who we should be highlighting year-round because those people reflect our students and families.

I especially love all the fun I get to have as a Spanish language teacher. There’s so much room for games and laughter. The best part is getting to know my students and seeing their faces light up when they discover something similar between our cultures or they start to see what they’re learning in my classroom show up in the world around them–they start to understand signs in Spanish and can communicate with new people.

… they start to understand signs in Spanish and can communicate with new people.

I know a lot of our students experience a lot of self-doubts, and they can be very hard on themselves. It took me a very long time to get to a point of self-acceptance, and I want them to get there so much sooner. I want them to know that whatever path they take is going to be the right one for them. More than anything, I want my students to be very happy and proud of themselves.


Christina Estrada is a founding teacher at KIPP Navigate. Christina teaches 9-12 grade Spanish language. She believes that everyone has the right to have a quality education and the ability to pursue whatever it is they want in life.

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