Native English Speaking Student Wins National Bilingual Competition

Hanna Allen, a native English speaker won a national award for writing a letter in Spanish.

A native English speaker won a national award from the National Association for Bilingual Education, or NABE, for writing a letter in Spanish.

Hanna Allen, a fourth grader at Farine Elementary School in Irving, has been a part of the school's dual language program since kindergarten.

Janabeth Allen, Hanna's mother, said she wanted to give her three children the gift of learning a second language from an early age.

"I was questioning when my kids entered kindergarten, would they learn everything they needed to learn? Because of this dual language. And my answer was, are you kidding? They learned it in two languages," said Janabeth Allen.

Hanna wrote an essay about learning Spanish and submitted it to the NABE's national competition.

Last week, she found out she won. "I was pretty much really surprised because I didn't really think i would win," she said.

Only two elementary schools and one middle school in the Irving ISD offer the dual language program. Students learn in English one week and in Spanish the next week.

Principal Julie Miller said some of the students are native English speakers and others are native Spanish speakers. In the end, the goals for all students are to become truly bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural.

Miller said those opposed to the dual and bilingual programs don't like the idea of American children learning in Spanish. Miller also said some fear that taking such courses would make one forget their native language.

But Miller dispelled any speculation. "Brain research tells us just as a point of fact, whatever your languages are the more of them you know, the more of your brain you can access," said Miller.

About two-thirds of the approximately 820 students attending Farine Elementary are dual language students.

Anna Hanna, a dual language teacher, said her classroom is diverse, with students from Hispanic, Indian, and Native American backgrounds. "Having the opportunity to prove that native American children can speak two languages is an amazing thing. It builds their character, and makes them stronger," said Hanna.

As for Hanna Allen, the national award winner, she hopes to save most of the $1,000 prize money she receives. She also plans to continue learning in Spanish, saying she believes it will help her get ahead in college and beyond.

Hanna Allen will receive her NABE award at a luncheon February 16 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

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