Arabic, Chinese among almost 70 native languages spoken by Johnston County students

Johnston County News

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – Hearing English in the classroom at South Smithfield Elementary School is assured on any given day. There are also almost 70 other languages that can be heard.

There are 68 native languages spoken by students in Johnston County, according to the school system. There are roughly 37,000 people living in the county compared to about 160,000 in neighboring Wake County.

“The small town of Smithfield, and to have so many different languages represented, it’s very encouraging and exciting,” South Smithfield Elementary assistant principal Carson Cataliotti said.

The most widely spoken language besides English is Spanish. Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Danish are also widely spoken. Some students move to the area with parents who work in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

“And then when you think about the different countries, it’s more amazing because we have several countries that speak Spanish and Spanish is counted as just one language,” said Ana Lucia Milazzotto, who is the director of federal programs for Johnston County Schools. “So it’s great to see the diversity in Johnston County.”

She said those who teach English as a second language and other teachers have to be creative in the classroom when the language and alphabet are different for some students.

“We don’t have to speak those languages. We have to help students grow into their language proficiency by scaffolding and making the curriculum comprehensible,” said Milazzoto.

In other words, it’s all step-by-step as they learn things like math and social studies while learning English.

“I have this child in my class that I want to reach. What can I do to support them and their growth?” asked Cataliotti. “They’ll use apps. They’ll use drawings. We’ll use kids in the classroom who can help communicate with them.

“It’s been wonderful in that aspect we’re teaching our kids to embrace and learn different cultures” she added.

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