Learning a language opens a new world: Maylen Rafuls knows it, because she’s lived it.
Rafuls, who teaches French and Spanish and Coronado High School, has a background rich in language and travel, and she wants to bring that to her students via pedagogically sound methods. Rafuls was named a 2023 Outstanding Teacher by the California Language Teacher’s Association.
“Knowing another language opens up the world to our students because they can now travel without relying on translators or English speakers,” Rafuls said. “They can access a culture from the inside, and they can expand their perspectives. Learning another language is learning the way another culture thinks.”
Rafuls was born in Cuba and moved to Miami when she was 10 years old. This was her first foray into language as she learned – and quickly excelled in – English. By the end of her first year of school in the United States, she tested out of her school’s English as a Second Language program.
She dabbled in French during her high school years, but mostly focused on her native Spanish skills, devouring Spanish literature in AP classes. At Princeton, she began her French studies as part of her comparative literature degree, including study abroad programs that immersed her in French language and culture. She rounded out her Princeton days by learning Italian.
The next stop for Rafuls was Mauritania as a Peace Corps volunteer, where she flexed her French muscles and also learned an Arabic dialect, before attending Stanford to obtain her teaching credentials. She’s currently fluent in Spanish, English, and French, and can understand Italian and Portuguese.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was a little girl,” Rafuls said. “I think that came from admiring my teachers and enjoying learning.”
Rafuls began teaching in 2009, and focused most of her career in California before moving to Imperial Beach to teach in Coronado.
“A successful language learning program results in students who stay connected to the language and culture for life,” Rafuls said. “Graduates of a successful language program end up using the language for professional and personal reasons.”
An ideal program, according to Rafuls (and back by the CA World Languages Framework) focuses on immersion, mirroring real-life situations, and utilizing instructional methods that will reach all types of learners.
“An important assumption behind the framework is that all students, with the right experiences and support, can learn and achieve at high levels in another language,” Rafuls said. “Intercultural competence also plays an essential role in preparing learners for 21st-century careers and life. Therefore, units and lessons need to have an intercultural focus, and the use of authentic materials during instruction is a key strategy to ensure that students can access the culture.”
In her quest to create a vigorous language learning program in Coronado, Rafuls recently adopted the Biliteracy Pathway Recognitions, a K-8 language award program sponsored by the state.
“I thought it was essential to promote multilingualism as early as possible so that more students have the chance to earn the Seal of Biliteracy by the end of their senior year of high school,” Rafuls said. “In addition, the new awards are in alignment with (Governor Gavin Newsom’s) Global 2030 California vision to significantly expand the number of students graduating bilingual in California.”
The program comprises three awards: The first is a participation award for any K-8 student taking a world language course. The second is a Home Language Development Recognition, which honors 5th- and 8th-grade students who are practicing or learning a language during their time outside of school.
Finally, the Biliteracy Attainment Recognition is awarded to 5th- and 8th-grade students who meet testing requirements in both English and another language.
“All these students are on the road to biliteracy and, if they continue to immerse themselves in the language, they should earn the Seal of Biliteracy by the end of high school,” Rafuls said. “Ultimately, knowledge about and participation in these K-8 awards promotes students’ interest in world languages.”
Rafuls was recently married, on March 11 this year. She lives in Imperial Beach with her husband and their almost two-year-old son, where they enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, and exploring San Diego.
She’s currently pursuing a Ph.D., with a projected completion date of May 2024. Once she’s finished with her program, rather than resting, Rafuls, in true character, says she hopes to learn German.
Coronado Teacher Maylén Rafuls Receives Outstanding Language Teacher Award