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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a High School Student Learning Italian & French


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Merrill—a New York high school student aspiring to a career in International Relations.

"Ask away: 5 questions" banner with Merrill's photo in front of a university building

1. When did you start learning languages, and why did you choose Italian and French?

When I was a child, my grandparents would always say little phrases in Italian. Whenever I had to leave, I always said “ciao!” at family events. I started taking Italian in 7th grade in a classroom setting.

It quickly became a passion; I would come home and practice by teaching my dog commands in Italian.

By 9th grade, I realized that I wanted to learn a second language. French seemed to be different and my Italian teacher would even teach us French words when we were learning Italian ones. Over the summer between 9th and 10th grade, I studied hard to be put into a French II class. My French teacher was extremely helpful in solidifying my knowledge once I went back to school.

2. Any tips for other students learning two languages at once? What have you found to be helpful?

I believe music is the best helper when learning another language. This way you hear the way the words are pronounced and even unconsciously understand the grammatical aspect. I mix up the languages sometimes and I’ll speak French in Italian class and vice versa. Last year I had Italian, English, and French right in a row. It was hard to switch back and forth. To set apart the languages, I came up with a couple of phrases to say in my head to help my brain switch.

3. Your family has hosted exchange students in your home: Can you tell us a little about that experience and its impact on your understanding of another language and culture?
Merrill and her German friend sipping Starbucks drinks with the caption "with the squad"
Merrill (right) celebrating her German sister’s first “pink drink” at Starbucks!
Merrill and the German exchange student standing in her living room
Merrill (right) with her German sister

Hosting an exchange student is an amazing experience.

We first hosted a girl from Germany. I became friends with the exchange students every year in high school. I remember one occasion when my German sister and I were sitting in the kitchen; I was pointing at random objects and she said them in German. We were both laughing so hard. While she was here, we incorporated some of her traditions that we still do today.

When she left, it was one of the hardest times I’ve ever cried. This October she came back to visit us and it felt as if my family was whole again.

Not only do you gain a unique experience, but also a life-long family member.

4. As a high school student, why do you feel it’s important to learn another language?

The world has many beautiful qualities. One of them is the fact that we all do not speak one united language. It’s important to learn more than one to communicate with others. It also helps expand your understanding of English words when learning more complex vocabulary.

5. What role to languages and cultural awareness play in your future plans?
Merrill standing in front of a building at Boston University
Merrill at Boston University’s International Relations department

I want to use my language ability to help the relations of foreign countries become better with the United States.

Cultural awareness also plays a major role in this as well: In order to create more peace in the world, you would not try and make everyone the same, but understand the differences and be accepting of everyone.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite word or expression in another language and why?
Merrill sipping coffee at a cafe
Merrill at an Italian-speaking cafe in Boston

My favorite word would have to be “addio.” It is Italian for goodbye.

However, this is not a normal “goodbye.” It directly means “go with god.” This means you will never see the person you are saying this to again.

It was one of the first words outside of the Italian curriculum that my teacher taught us. I loved that this word did not have a perfect translation in English and that created my desire to further my understanding and love for languages.

Are you interested in language scholarships, university programs, or student testimonials? Visit our Lead with French and  Lead with Italian pages to learn more.  And don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!