Say adiós to shyness : Mr. Higa inspires confidence in his Spanish-speaking students


Jun Cai

Earl Higa, Seabury Hall’s new upper school Spanish teacher, encourages his students to feel comfortable speaking a foreign language in his class.

Jun Cai, Staff Writer

When you learn a language, you learn a culture as well, according to Earl Higa, Seabury Hall’s new Upper School Spanish teacher.

Raised in Waianae, Oahu, which has a rural atmosphere similar to upcountry Maui, Higa graduated from Kamehameha Schools Kapālama as an accomplished honors student.

Planning to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a doctor, he majored in Biology at University of Hawaii at Manoa. But after being declined from medical school, Higa was offered a master’s degree in Spanish free of charge due to his fluency in the language, and he took advantage of the opportunity.

Looking back on his high school years learning Spanish, Higa recalls many workbooks and writing rather than talking. Only after studying in Panama during 2007 did he felt comfortable speaking fluent Spanish.

Contrary to his high school experience, Higa wants his students to speak as much as they can in school, leaving reading and writing for homework. “My idea is that when they enter the classroom, they are entering a little world,” explained Higa.

Since moving back to Hawaii, Higa admitted that keeping his accent has been quite a challenge since he now speaks English, his first language, exclusively except when he is teaching his classes.

“In today’s world, we are easily connected to other cultures, and if we’re not careful, we can easily offend them,” Higa stated. He believes in the importance that by passionately learning another language and culture, individuals can avoid being ethnocentric today.

Higa’s students seem to be enjoying his teaching style as well. “Spanish used to be my least favorite, but now it’s my favorite, because he makes it so much fun with his games and easy to understand,” commented Veronica Winham, a sophomore currently in his Spanish 3 class.

Will Hurd, another student in Higa’s class, described his class as “super chill and relaxed, but he still teaches lots of stuff in way that’s much more exciting and interesting.” Other students remarked at how they enjoyed the way Higa put his own experience into his teaching, and found him easier to relate to because he is a younger teacher and he has an engaging style to his lessons.

During the first couple days of class this year, Higa admitted he was impressed with his students’ study skills. “I would just start to write something on the board, and when I turned around all the students already had their notebooks out. I didn’t even have to say anything, they did it on their own,” he remarked.

He even offered some advice for each of his classes:

For Spanish 1 students who come in with little or no background in learning Spanish: “pick up whatever you can and find something you like, because it’s easier to do something you love.”

For Spanish 2 students: “try and make mistakes rather than giving up”. Higa believes this applies to every subject, and as cliché and overused as it is, mistakes are definitely an important learning experience.

As for his Spanish 3 students, he advises to “speak freely rather than be shy.” Knowing they already have a strong foundation in Spanish, Higa encourages his students to speak up confidently in class.

Outside of the classroom, Higa enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. He also enjoys drawing (when he can find the time to sketch), and completing early morning workouts. He claims he can easily eat Foodland poke bowls for all three meals.

Like anyone who is a part of campus life, Higa and his family are also fans of the school’s lunches. “My wife and I came with a plan to get fit and lose some extra weight, but after I realized the lunches were this good, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Higa said with a light laugh.

Higa has been pleased with how nice and welcoming the Seabury Hall community has been to him since he arrived, and he hopes the same for many who do not know him yet.

“Hopefully, I come off as a ‘non-scary’ teacher,” he said encouragingly. “I’m not here to scold or intimidate anyone. I’m a nice guy, and I’m here to help, so if my students have questions I want them to come to me.”