The Arlington Heights teacher’s family experience shaped the passion for language learners

Beth Hornberg speaks fluent Spanish, making her home in her classroom at Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights, where she teaches as many as 40 students who speak a total of 19 different languages.

They include Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Ukrainian, along with various dialects from China and India.


Multilingual teacher Beth Hornberg works with her students at Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights.  Her classroom includes as many as 40 students who speak 19 different languages.

Multilingual teacher Beth Hornberg works with her students at Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights. Her classroom includes as many as 40 students who speak 19 different languages.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer

Hornberg loves the diversity she brings – her own father arrived in this country as a teenager from Buenos Aires – and embraces her role as a multilingual teacher in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25.

“The most important thing is not just to teach them English, but also the social-emotional aspect,” she says. “Unlike most teachers, I have my students for several years. I often have siblings. We are a family and I work to make them feel safe, feel safe – and not just for the students, but for the whole their family.”

Hornberg is working on developing what she describes as the four biggest ways to learn English: listening, speaking, reading and writing, and often in that order.

She meets with students in 30-minute retirement sessions, either individually or in small groups, where they work on language acquisition as well as academic content for their grade levels.

For new students, Hornberg may meet three times a day initially, but it typically gets smaller as their English skills become stronger in the upper grades.



Beth Hornberg leads her students through the hallways of Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights.

Beth Hornberg leads her students through the hallways of Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer

For those students who go in with little or no English, Hornberg communicates using lots of pictures, modeling, and builds on the basic vocabulary words, such as parts of their body or ordinary things in the classroom or at home.

“We read books and we sing a lot too,” Hornberg said. “We love singing in my classroom.”

She sees that students typically acquire skills in listening first, and slowly they begin to speak, usually with one-word answers, before building on sentences and phrases.

“It’s our hope to get them to talk in conversation,” Hornberg adds, “but it’s always the hardest part.”

Hornberg brings a lot of experience to his students. She has worked with multilingual students for all of the 18 years she has taught, but also has experience as an administrator and served as assistant principal at Round Lake before coming to Greenbrier.



Beth Hornberg said her family's experiences - her father taught himself English after coming to the United States from Argentina as a teenager - helped lead her to become a multilingual teacher at Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights.

Beth Hornberg said her family’s experiences – her father taught himself English after coming to the United States from Argentina as a teenager – helped lead her to become a multilingual teacher at Greenbrier Elementary School in Arlington Heights.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer

Previous teaching positions have included schools in Round Lake and Itasca, where Hornberg always worked with new English speakers.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I have a passion for language learners that comes from my own family experience,” she said.

Her father came to this country from Argentina at the age of 17. At that time, there were no programs to convert students to speak English. So he learned on his own by listening to people around him – and to songs on the radio.

“He loved Moms and Papas and the Beatles,” Hornberg says with a laugh.

Still, while she strongly identifies with students struggling to assimilate into their new country, Hornberg encourages them to continue speaking their native language at home.

“Being bilingual or trilingual is a beautiful, positive thing to have in your life,” she said.

Hornberg’s classroom is located opposite the Library Media Center in Greenbrier, near the school center. Students walk by every day and see the vibrant, cultural festivities displayed around the room.

But more is happening in space than one can see.

“My biggest goal is to make my classroom a safe place where students can make mistakes as they learn and grow,” she said.

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