One conversation at a time, Letizia Cumbo-Nacheli is breaking down language barriers


Letizia Cumbo- Nacheli

Letizia posing for a photo outside in her driveway as the sun sets

Freshman Letizia Cumbo-Nacheli didn’t know how to ask her first-grade teacher for art supplies in English. 

Letizia grew up in a household where Spanish was her first language. At home, this didn’t cause any issues, but as soon as first-grade rolled around, it quickly became clear that her English vocabulary was still developing, and, because of this, it led to some pretty interesting conversations with her teachers. 

“When I was little, around first-grade,” Letizia said, “I didn’t know any of the names of supplies that we had in the classroom in English because I was so used to only speaking Spanish; I used to say them in Spanish hoping my teacher knew what I was asking for, but unfortunately, she had no idea what I was saying. Incidents like that used to happen a lot. My teachers didn’t know what I was even talking about, but after a while, it definitely got easier.”

Over the course of many years, it became clear that both English and Spanish were going to play a vital role in her life. Letizia had to adapt to a life where at home she would speak Spanish with her family, but then shortly after would transfer over into English when she was at school or with her friends. 

To many, this might seem like a rather large obstacle, but to Letizia, it was a challenge that she graciously accepted and now has mastered. 

Letizia explains that there are both good and bad things that come with being bilingual. Many people don’t see the downsides because they are few and far between, but they are there nonetheless. 

“I have this collection of stickers on my laptop,” Letizia said, “and part of the collection is this ‘I-voted’ sticker that I have. Now you would think that wouldn’t be problematic, but I heard later on that some people were making hurtful comments about my background and culture.” 

Comments like these are extremely wrong and should not be tolerated, but Letizia persistently does not let the negatives affect her and instead focuses on all the amazing opportunities that speaking two languages has brought her. 

Travel is a big part of her life, and when she does go to these amazing places being able to speak Spanish has always aided her in her adventures. 

“Like anything else, there are hard things that come with the territory of being bilingual,” Letizia said, “but mainly it brings good things into my life. For example, when I go on vacation and travel to other countries that speak Spanish—or a version of Spanish—I feel special when I can actually communicate with the  other people who live there.”

Like anything else, there are hard things that come with the territory of being bilingual, but mainly it brings good things into my life,”

— Letizia

Being able to connect with different types of people through Spanish is a great gift in Letizia’s life, but it’s also a crucial one as it’s her only way to communicate with her cousins since Spanish is the only language they share in common. 

“I honestly need to make sure my Spanish is always intact and that I can speak it perfectly,” Letizia said. “Because I speak English and my cousins speak french, but we both speak Spanish, that’s the only way we can talk—same with my grandparents.”

However, that might not be the case for very long because Letizia is learning how to speak french. On her way to being trilingual, she is very excited to keep learning. 

As previously mentioned, travel is a big part of her life, so when she went on spring break and was surrounded by a bunch of friends speaking French, she decided to push herself even further and take on yet another language. 

“I am starting to learn French,” Letizia said. “I’m on the way to becoming trilingual, and what inspired me to like to start speaking French is that I went on spring break and I made a lot of friends and they all spoke French and I felt really left out. Because I could not understand everything they were saying, I picked up on a few things, but after that, I promised myself I was going to learn how to speak French by the end of summer.”

From Letizia’s culture to the many languages she does, and one day hopes to speak, she has accomplished great things because of being bilingual. It has given her experiences and opportunities like no other, along with a drive to keep traveling the world and communicating with others. 

“Being bilingual has taught me a couple of lessons over the years,” Letizia said. “One, [don’t] let other people’s judgment stop you, two, never be afraid to try something new, and three, live your life to the fullest by traveling and speaking different languages and doing what makes you happy.”