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Bilingual students spread news updates to Spanish-speaking Idahoans

Class photo
Class photo of the students in Fatima Cornwall’s Spanish for Healthcare class. Note: Kandie Talavera (not pictured) was also part of the project.

Gov. Brad Little holds regular press conferences to update the state on the pandemic. Students in Fatima Cornwall’s class, Spanish for Healthcare, are partnering with the Idaho Statesman to add Spanish voiceovers to video clips from each gubernatorial press conference.

A recent story in the paper by Nicole Foy, a Statesman reporter who covers Latinx issues, praised the effort. “These students, many of whom are native Spanish-speakers, have given up many evenings and weekends to make sure their community can hear their state leaders deliver information important to their families’ lives in their first language,” Foy wrote.

Valeria Montelongo, double majoring in biology and Spanish, is a first-generation college student from American Falls, Idaho. Her parents are from Mexico. Montelongo grew up speaking Spanish and learned English in kindergarten. She interpreted for her parents throughout her childhood. Later, Montelongo worked as a library aid in American Falls. Her reputation as an interpreter grew. Spanish-speaking library patrons regularly brought her mail and other documents to translate.

“I still get recognized from that job,” said Montelongo. The Statesman project feels like an extension of work she’s done her whole life, she said.

In addition to providing a service for Idaho Spanish-speakers, the project has given Montelongo a chance to work with her dad, Jose. He’d wanted to pursue an education but had gone to work straight out of high school instead. He’s helped Montelongo edit voiceover scripts.

“He really likes it when I include him in my school work,” said Montelongo. “I know Spanish, but not the way I know English. I’m also infamous for making up words in Spanish. And there are so many ways to say one word, even in Mexico because of all of the different regions. My dad catches my mistakes.”

Spanish-speakers like Montelongo’s parents and their friends comprise the audience that will benefit from the students’ work.

Valeria Montelongo
Valeria Montelongo

Cornwall, Spanish language coordinator for the Department of World Languages, said Montelongo and other students will continue to provide language services during the spring.

“It certainly has been a labor of love. I never worked with a news source before, so having to produce materials in less than 48 hours has been intense,” said Cornwall.

Cornwall’s student Jessie Wine, a senior majoring in Spanish and English with a linguistics emphasis, became fluent in Spanish as a teenager when she accompanied her parents to Argentina to do church work. Her family lived in South America for three years. Wine encountered many Spanish dialects which inspired her interest in linguistics. She is considering teaching in the future, and currently teaches Spanish to homeschooled students. After she graduates, she will join her fiancé in Queretaro, Mexico.

Jessie Wine

The Statesman translation project has challenged her, but has been worthwhile, Wine said. It required building a whole new glossary of medical terms and contending with words that don’t have direct translations, added Montelongo. Like the favorite  Idaho term, “folks.” It might be translated as “amigos” in some contexts, or “companeros” in others. Students recorded their first translation no fewer than seven times until it was perfect, Wine said.

“I admire Fatima’s leadership. She did more work than any of us, listening to all of our recordings. This class has been so awesome because it offered a practical opportunity to help people that I haven’t always gotten in other classes,” said Wine.