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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Future Translator & Interpreter

 

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

Meet Alyssa—a New Jersey high school senior learning French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and American Sign Language.

"Ask Away: 5 Questions" banner image with Alyssa's portrait

1. You’re currently enrolled in AP French and working toward earning the Seal of Biliteracy: Why this language—what first inspired you?

In all honesty, I didn’t want to fall into the cliché of taking Spanish. Everyone always takes Spanish because it’s the language they are familiar with and it’s “easier” to learn. Now don’t get me wrong, Spanish is a great language and I did want to learn it so that I could be able to speak to members of my family, but I wanted more. I wanted to go against the grain.

I took French to try something new and to challenge myself. It was rough at first, but I stuck it out for six years and I am so happy with my decision.

2. What are some French activities you do outside of the traditional language classroom?

I live in an area where the only exposure I have to the language is in school. In order to help me learn outside of the classroom, I listen to French music, podcasts, and watch videos like DamonAndJo on Youtube. Those activities help me learn the language and better understand the culture from a day to day perspective.

However, I don’t have anyone to practice French with and that makes it extremely difficult to maintain it.

That is why a friend—who is also learning French—and I have an unspoken rule to only text each other in French.

It has definitely allowed me to use things that I learn in the classroom and apply them outside when I talk to my friend.

3. Now in addition to your French classes, you’ve also begun learning Spanish (and some other languages)! Can you tell us a little about your decision to try something new? What’s been most surprising about adding another language to your repertoire?

In order to be a translator, you need to know two or more languages, so it seemed only fitting that I take Spanish as it is a widely spoken language in the U.S. and in my family. As mentioned before, I did want to take Spanish and this year I finally had the opportunity to do so.

However, in taking Spanish I’ve noticed it has its similarities and differences from French. I have been trained for so long to speak in my throat that it is a bit of a challenge for me to pronounce some things in Spanish, as you must use your mouth instead.

But what surprises me the most about adding another language is that I am not confusing the two languages when I need to be speaking one or the other. I can mostly switch between the two with no problem. It really amazes me that I am able to learn multiple languages and retain them until I need to use them.

4. Any tips for fellow language learners?

A major tip for fellow language learners would be to LEARN THE GRAMMAR!

As tough and as much as I hated that first year of French, I am eternally grateful to my teacher for drilling the many tenses and grammar rules into my head. It may not seem fun, but grammar is the basis of any language; if you get a good foundation, then you can conjugate any verb that’s thrown your way and the vocabulary will just follow.

Another important tip is to practice! You may have a lot going on and not enough time, but take a few minutes to study vocab and try to find ways to speak more because it will all benefit you in the end.

5. Why is it important for young people to learn a language and/or explore other cultures?

It’s important for young people to learn a language and explore other cultures because that is how you broaden your horizons. It allows you to meet new people and gain a new perspective on life. Simply put—it is exhilarating!

Learning about a culture other than your own makes the world more interesting and forces you to try new, exciting things that are outside of your comfort zone. As a young person, I can attest that I have tried many new things that I simply love to do now like cook scallion pancakes—a popular Chinese dish—and watch French movies.

I can also relate to people on so many different levels because of knowing, or being familiar with, something about their culture or their language, and it in turn has given me the opportunity to learn something new.

It makes others happy when you learn about them and it makes you happy as well!

Overall, it is such a rewarding experience and I highly encourage young people to get involved in other cultures: step outside your comfort zone!

BONUS QUESTION: What’s next? Have you considered some ways that languages may play a role in your future career?

Well, from a young age I have always loved learning about other cultures, and it is something that I have fully embraced as I have gotten older. Taking French and learning all these other languages has only reinforced my desire to be a translator; to be that facilitator between two diverse cultures that helps them learn about and from each other.

Languages interest me in a way that is hard to explain. Everyone has a niche, and for a while I was unsure of mine, but I think I have found my calling in the foreign language field because of my inherent love for learning languages.

It makes me happy to learn about different cultures and speak to others in their native tongue. So languages are, essentially, my future and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

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