Members of the local Spanish-speaking community have found an ally in a Washington College student who helps them overcome language barriers.
Rachael Walloga ’19 may one day be a professional translator. But for now she is engineering safe passage between cultures that share geography but not a common language.
“As a linguist, I really see language as a bridge,” says Walloga, a dual major in Spanish and international studies with a minor in European studies. “And working as a translator, you’re building bridges not between languages but between speakers. So I think a lot of the community outreach that I’ve been involved with is building a bridge between communities that share the same foundation but can’t quite come together because of language.”
Walloga recently worked with a local branch of the Compass Hospice organization translating all of their written materials from English to Spanish to bring a sense of ease and understanding to families dealing with end-of-life issues. She is now interning with Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s office in Chestertown to help local Hispanic families in need of legal advice. She is a firm advocate of elevating everyone to equal levels of achievement and satisfaction regardless of their primary language.
“It’s kind of an odd thing because you’re an independent entity as a translator. I’m taking a service that people need and I’m bridging that gap. At Mid-Shore, I wrote a press release recently about a mother who was seeking to obtain status for her child with special needs. They don’t know what’s wrong with him but until he has status here, he can’t begin to find the proper treatment. When you’re there in that moment as someone is getting the help they need, it’s very powerful.”
Walloga struggles with the notion that our schools and public service providers once insisted that everyone speak English. Her father was a Spanish-speaker until the family immigrated to the States, and his mother was confronted by school administrators telling her that he would have to learn English or would not be allowed to receive an education.
“We know now that requiring students to speak one language in order to succeed is a myth, that bilingual children flourish,” Walloga says. “Does speaking English make me more of an American citizen?”
Walloga comes by her passion for languages naturally. She went to a high school in Chicago where more than 80 languages are spoken. She connected with her International Baccalaureate teacher so strongly that she knew early on she wanted to be a translator.
Her senior capstone project focuses on how language can help consolidate democracy in Latin America among indigenous populations. She marvels at the variety of dialects throughout the Spanish-speaking populations of Latin America, and even more so at the way that indigenous idiom affects the basic structure of the dialect and reveals more deeply the culture of the region.
“One of the interesting things I’m learning is what Spanish are we speaking—is it Argentine Spanish, Ecuadorian, or is it more Mexican Spanish? I like to study all the different dialects of Spanish so I’m hoping that my next area of investigation will be on the dialectical differences of the Spanish language. As a translator it’s really important that you’re getting the translation right for the audience you’re addressing.”
As for her plans after graduation, she is torn between working in the area, which she now adores and where she has formed strong emotional ties, joining the Peace Corps, or going to Spain to teach English.
“Working at Mid-Shore has made me curious about going into legal work, but Spain is also calling me,” she says. “But really it’s me pursuing careers where I can do the most good using my language. With my work at Compass Regional and at Mid-Shore I see the communities begin to connect in ways that we’ve never seen before. I’m going to keep learning how to use language to overcome the barriers and how to be that bridge. That’s what I want with my life.”