Student Profile - Isaiah Johnson

Spanish major Isaiah Johnson finds adventure in being bilingual

For senior Spanish major Isaiah Johnson, it is not enough to just speak, write and understand Spanish in order to become bilingual; you have to dream in it as well.Isaiah Johnson standing  Johnson knew he liked Spanish when he studied it in high school, but was not aware he was starting a path for a career he would later pursue at Lamar University.

Johnson came to Lamar University after graduating in 2008 with honors from Central High School in Beaumont.  Growing up in Beaumont he knew he wanted to stay close to home.

Johnson began his college career as a pre-dental major with the intention of moving to Dallas after graduating.  His advisor suggested he take some Spanish courses to offer an advantage to the competition in the dental field.  “After a few science courses I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a dentist anymore,” said Johnson.  “I loved all my Spanish classes and decided I wanted to make a career out of it.”

Johnson got involved in the Spanish Circle Organization and the Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Honors Society where he began volunteering at the Southeast Texas Food Bank.  “Being involved in these organizations allows me to practice speaking to others in Spanish outside of class,” said Johnson.

Learning Spanish at Lamar was different than learning at Central High School for Johnson. “In high school, teachers would allow students to speak English,” said Johnson. “At Lamar the professors will not let students speak anything but Spanish in class so, it forces us to use it every day.”

Johnson has been influenced by many of his professors at Lamar University with their supportive guidance. “The professors at Lamar are willing to help,” said Johnson. “Without my professors I wouldn’t be as prepared and wouldn’t have had the opportunities I was given.”

Norma Zarzosa, Coordinator of Global Studies and Study Abroad, told Johnson about the study abroad program at Lamar.  He was able to travel to Spain where he learned more about the culture and enhancing his Spanish-speaking skills.

Staying in Salamanca, Spain, gave Johnson access to 15 museums.  He traveled to Barcelona where he visited a famous church called La Sagrada Familia.  Being able to see the architecture of Spain opened Johnson’s eyes to the world of art.  “I went to a palace called La Alhambra in Granada constructed with the architecture and filled with beautiful art in the Muslim style,” said Johnson.  “We went to many different museums, where I took an interest in art and learned about the Spanish culture from the street shows.”

“In Spain we went to class five days a week and on weekend excursions,” Johnson said.  Immersing himself in a Spanish-speaking culture helped Johnson expand his vocabulary and become more fluent. “I was in Spain for one month,” said Johnson. “But being in a completely Spanish environment helped me become accustomed to words and helped me learn even more.”

He is currently working in the language lab at Lamar as a Spanish tutor, as a substitute teacher for the Beaumont Independent School District and a sales associate for Best Buy.  Each job helps him practice Spanish. At Best Buy he seeks out Spanish-speaking customers to practice his skills outside of school.  “I feel like work is an adventure,” said Johnson. “I find myself walking around the store trying to find someone who doesn’t speak English so I can practice while helping meet their needs.”

When working in the language lab, Johnson uses the same techniques as his professors.  He tells the students it is not enough to just practice in class.  “I believe the reason why students don’t practice is because they are scared they will mess up,” said Johnson.

Johnson eventually hopes to become a professor at a university in San Antonio.   He feels prepared for whatever life will throw at him from all the help he has received at Lamar. “Lamar has matured me,” said Johnson. “Sometimes we have to do what we don’t want to do in order to get the desired result.  College has made me into an adult and allowed me to gain independence.”

Johnson has recently started teaching his mother and nephew Spanish and some day hopes to teach his children Spanish. He wants people to see the advantages of becoming bilingual in a diverse world.