Linguistic Love

Teachers share what sparked their passion for teaching languages


Amariah Nielsen, Reporter

The High School Foundation Program requires students to complete at least 22 credit hours in order to graduate as outlined within the Texas High School Graduation Requirements. Among the curricular requirements for endorsements, students are required to take two levels of a language other than English.

Heritage offers French and Spanish classes as well as online Chinese. Learning languages can be more than just a graduation requirement as it promotes communication and stronger relationships between culture and language barriers. For the language teachers at Heritage, learning a language became more than studying for a credit as they developed a passion for cultures and people. 

I interviewed eight language teachers at Heritage, and discover why they developed a passion for language.

Ellen Shaunessy: French Teacher

“I hated French in high school. I had to take my two years of [French], and when I got into college I had to decide what I wanted to do and I got into national business. I wanted to do international business because I knew I liked to travel. That was the one thing I knew I wanted to do. So with that, I had to take a foreign language minor. Since I’d already taken French I decided to go ahead and take [it] in college. But it was different; I was different, I wasn’t as shy as when I was in high school. The teacher was super animated and encouraging and made the class a lot more fun, so I really got into it– and I excelled at it. And when I couldn’t pass accounting to save my life, I had to get out of the business school so I decided to major in French, since it was going so well. I graduated with a degree in French, decided I wanted to speak fluently, so I moved [to France] for a year and that completely changed the course of my life. When I moved back [to the States] I got a job [In HR] where I [could speak French as there aren’t a lot of opportunities here for French speakers]. About eleven years went by and I had to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, as I wasn’t really passionate about what I was doing. I knew that I had a passion for French and French culture, so I wanted to follow that and do what I really enjoyed doing. I decided to teach, because I love sharing [my passion for French] with people!”


Erin Owens: French Teacher

“I started learning French in ninth grade and I loved it from the start. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. I was intrigued by the complex grammar structures and fun pronunciation. After four years of studying French in high school, I joined my school for a trip to France. It was then that I fell in love with the culture and way of life in France. They truly know how to enjoy every aspect of life, from the food and the history, to nature and family. Everything is sacred to them and this inspired me. I didn’t decide to become a teacher until later in life when I wanted to share my passion of French and France with others. I truly enjoy watching students learn and broaden their knowledge of culture in francophone countries.”


Sonia Martinez-Burkart: Spanish Teacher

“I was born in Mexico. My family came to the USA when I was 14 years old and I have loved the USA ever since! My goal in life is to change lives for the better [and] help build a better future. The best way to accomplish this is working with kids. I believe in my motto: ‘Change a heart, change a life, will change the world!’ I have worked as a Spanish teacher for 28 years in all levels of education and discovered secondary education is my favorite.”


Madison Hatfield: Spanish Teacher

“I became passionate about Spanish after I took my first Spanish class in middle school and went to Peru the following summer. When I was in Peru, I realized that I could use what I had learned in school to attempt to communicate with the people there. Once I tried to communicate with the people in their native language, I immediately saw their walls come down and how much they appreciated me just trying. I am an extrovert, so the skill of communication and connecting to people through their native language is what sparked the passion. I decided to teach the language because I want to pass this passion on to my students, and show students how mind opening learning another language and culture is. I hope to show my students how enriching different cultures are, and how we should celebrate [and] embrace diversity!”


Margaret Hutchinson: Spanish Teacher

“I loved learning the language when I was in school and went on to take it in college.  For my first two years of college [at the Ohio State University], I was undecided on my major. I wanted to do something that involved using Spanish, but didn’t know what. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I ran into a former high school Spanish teacher.  We had a conversation and she asked me simply, ‘Why not teach?’ I did not have an answer to that question; in fact, it compelled me to seriously think about it, and to change my major to Education for the Fall semester. The irony is that before I went off to college…I swore I would never teach. The love of the language and learning about the cultures came first, but my love now is getting to work with the amazing young adults that we have here at Heritage.”


Roxanne Saenz: Spanish Teacher

“What interested me most about language growing up were their similarities & differences. I love how Latin-based languages have words and phrases that sound or look very similar to others. I learned Spanish growing up as my second language. I basically only spoke it and seldom wrote in Spanish. We all know that when you learn a language that way, it’s not typical to learn the make-up of the language, you simply know how to use the language. I wanted to understand the inner workings of Spanish. When I began taking Spanish language and literature courses in college, I learned the mechanics of the language and saw the language used in a way I had never seen before, through poetry and novels. It was super interesting! Though I knew I wanted to be a teacher at a very young age, it took me much longer to decide what I wanted to teach. The Spanish language and literature courses are what made me decide to teach Spanish!”


Esther McCormick-Voinoff: Spanish 

“Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by the power and variety of language expression. Growing up bilingual and bicultural in Spanish and English simply amplified that awareness and made me realize how unique languages are and how they color our perceptions of the world and our surroundings.  As a fluent Spanish speaker, I became interested in French and started a life-long journey learning the French language and its culture. Speaking more than one language allowed me to see the world and understand things in different dimensions, so to speak. That is what sparked my passion for languages and their cultures. I wanted to make others aware of this beauty inherent in languages, and share the many benefits it brings to those who embrace learning a second language. I love all three languages in different ways.  I like to think of English as coming from my head, Spanish comes from my heart, and French comes from my soul. I chose to teach Spanish because it is the language of my family and my heritage and is therefore closest to my heart. I also wanted to share that with others and help bring awareness to the similarities that we share.”


Sandoval: Spanish Teacher

“Although I’ve been teaching Spanish for the past 10 years, I had a different job prior to teaching Spanish in Kansas City, where I worked professionally as a theatrical set designer. In 2008, I decided to change my career and become a Spanish teacher when my family moved to Frisco. Spanish is my first language, and I grew up in a home where acquiring new words was a fun way to communicate our ideas and feelings in our everyday lives. I was born and raised in Mexico City and my husband was born in Multan, Pakistan. We have always enjoyed sharing and teaching about our cultural background with our neighbors and friends. As a teacher, I can do the same thing. I share the beauty of my native language and culture at a broader level. My goal is to inspire students to use what they learn to be able to understand others and interpret the world in a different way.”


In a global society, learning languages plays a vital role in staying connected and building relationships with each other. Heritage High School is fortunate to have a team of language teachers dedicated to their target language and to sharing their passion with their students.