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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a University of Montana Student with Dreams of the Foreign Service

 

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

Meet Jenna—a freshman whose plans include earning her Master’s in language/linguistics or international relations/comparative politics and one day working with an international NGO.

"Ask Away: 5 Questions" banner image with portrait of Jenna

1. Why French?

My mom was actually my main motivator to begin taking French back when I was just an eighth grader (seems like such a long time ago!). She had taken both French and German courses in high school, and would oftentimes say short phrases or words to me when I was little. One of my fondest memories of this interaction was our nightly routine of telling each other “Je t’aime ma cherie, bonne nuit!” before we would go to sleep.

When registering for classes before my freshman year, there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that I would study French for all four years of high school.

I have since become absolutely infatuated with the language and culture of the French-speaking world, and I can say with confidence that it is something I will continue to immerse myself in long after I stop studying it in a purely academic setting.

2. What are you doing in college to strengthen and expand your skills?

French has truly opened so many doors for me!

I am enrolled in a global leadership certificate program at my university that has a central “outside-the-classroom” component which typically takes place during students’ junior year—for me, this will be studying abroad for at least a semester to a French-speaking country. Studying the French language has given me the necessary linguistic and cultural tools to be successful while studying abroad, emphasizing empathy, acceptance, and curiosity while experiencing other cultures.

It will also inevitably be a defining component of my goals, career-wise, even after I graduate.

3. What inspired and motivated you to keep learning the language?

My teachers were, without a doubt, the most important component of my success and love for learning French.

Being surrounded by those who exude passion for what they are teaching enhances one’s entire learning experience to such a level that we, as students, often found ourselves not ever wanting to leave our class and the community that we had created.

Additionally, the diversity and complexity of Francophone culture all across the world is astounding, stretching all the way from Paris to Ottawa, Port-au-Prince to Lomé; there is a wealth of knowledge to be learned in French, or any language, and I am constantly striving to broaden my Francophone horizons in any way that I can.

4. Have there been times you struggled with aspects of learning a new language, and how did you overcome them?

Definitely! Listening is still the hardest component of learning a language for me, although I have made a lot of progress since I first started. Especially while conversing with other French speakers, I exhibit a tendency to attempt to predict what the other person is going to say so that I can try to formulate a response that I know to be grammatically correct and eloquent even before the other person finishes responding. 95% of the time, this doesn’t work out for me (obviously) and my overthinking just ends up stressing me out even more!

I’ve been compelled to truly take a step back when listening to others speak so that I can truly absorb what they are saying and holistically respond, even if I make mistakes. Giving yourself the accommodation to fail while learning a language is absolutely paramount to your eventual success, even if those linguistic mishaps sometimes lead to some funny misunderstandings. Persisting and being okay with failure are arguably some of the most important skills that I am continuously refining on my journey of learning international languages.

5. What’s up next on your language journey?

I will definitely continue to study French in the future, and I hope to get into some more courses where I can delve into Francophone culture and customs—there is occasionally an African film class offered at my college that I would love to take within the next couple of years!

I’m also planning on taking Spanish classes again next fall to start on my Spanish minor that I’ll be adding to my degree. In addition to in the classroom, I’m also starting to think more about places where I would like to study abroad and how exactly that will fit into my schedule as a double major.

Languages are what I’m passionate about, and they will continue to define my academic pursuits and my career well into the future. The journey of studying language is never-ending, and I’m elated that I’ve had the opportunity to embark on it.

 

Interested in exploring language scholarships, university programs, or student testimonials? Visit our Lead with French or Lead with Spanish pages to learn more. And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!