New Hmong, Punjabi language electives introduced


Photo By Sabreen Atwal

Hmong teacher, Nalee Thao See (left) and Punjabi teacher, Jasbinder Saini at the Diwali festival held in the Central East quad during lunch.

Sabreen Atwal, Staff Editor

Central has recently taken a big leap in supporting two of the largest cultural groups at Central and two of the most common languages spoken in the Central Valley.  After Central students took elective preference surveys and the results were presented to the school board last year, Central began offering Hmong and Punjabi language classes this fall. These elective additions received a warm reception from many students. Central student Roselynn Xiong stated, “I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to take Hmong for years.”  These classes filled up quickly, with many students already recommending both courses and reporting that they would take a higher level if given the opportunity.

Hmong teacher Nalee Thao See came to Central with a variety of past work experiences. See taught Linguistics and ELA courses at College of Sequoias community college in Visalia for a year  and is currently teaching at Fresno State. Ms. See says she has felt welcome since the first day and adds, “My colleagues are just excellent.”   Ms. See has also been pleasantly surprised how fast her students are learning the course material and speaking the language.

Her goals are to increase the difficulty level of the curriculum while teaching students to appreciate the culture. Her approach is pragmatic as she hopes students will use their experience in the future to enhance their daily lives and benefit their community. She says she will consider her first year a success once her non native students can speak and write basic Hmong.

Punjabi teacher Jasbinder Saini says she is grateful to be given the opportunity to teach at Central High School and to be a role model for Punjabi students. Ms. Saini started off her career volunteering in schools and then transitioned into teaching, After volunteering for many years, she noticed Punjabi students needed a positive role model and opportunities to be proud of their Punjabi heritage. Now that she is a teacher, Ms. Saini says the cultural aspect of language instruction plays a big role in helping students fully understand the language, so she tries to incorporate it into to all of her lessons. Her Punjabi background also enables her to crossover into her own experiences during instruction, which helps her to connect with students on a more personal level.

What started as a language class has developed into a more immersive cultural experience. The class has broadened students’ knowledge of Punjabi traditions, which in turn, broadens their understanding of language nuances. For some students, Saini’s approach has affirmed their cultural identity. Sophomore Jaspreet Grewal said that being part of the class has changed his perception of what it means to be Punjabi. “ I already feel more prideful about my culture,” he explained. Students also see the value in becoming bilingual or multi-lingual when it comes to finding their way in the professional world. Sophomore Nia Day recognizes that becoming bilingual increases employment opportunities and she believes taking Punjabi will be beneficial to her in the future.

Ms. See and Ms. Saini agree there are multiple benefits to taking these courses. The goal is for students to become bicultural and bilingual after taking Hmong or Punjabi courses, and that these languages have regional relevance because they will help students understand and communicate with two of the largest cultural communities in the Valley and state. It will also allow them to relate to people at a deeper level. Saini says one of her favorite quotes is one attributed to South African activist and president Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

The Hmong and Punjabi teachers are also planning a number of extension projects designed to bring the school community together. Ms. See is working on establishing a Hmong club by next school year and the Punjabi Club has already kicked off the year by recruiting new members on club day. Ms.Saini will also be hosting a formal Punjabi Night near the end of the school year. She plans to feature a Punjabi fashion show, performances and food and invites everyone in the Central High community to attend. Saini is currently looking for staff and student volunteers to help organize and supervise the event.