To get a better sense of how Obies use languages other than English, we’ve asked current students and alumni to fill out a brief survey and let us know what they’re up to, linguistically! Are you interested in participating in the project? Email us.
Obies Using Languages
Nicholas Farfan is a Cinema Studies major with a minor in Africana Studies and Politics.
What other languages do you know and how did you learn each of them?
I know Spanish because I learned it in middle school and high school as well as just interacting with people. I also know conversational Italian from my mother and grandmother, but in terms of grammar and syntax and things like that I learned at Oberlin.
Which language do you feel like you can communicate best in or are more yourself? What language feels most like home or most comfortable to you?
I am definitely most fluent in English, but beyond English I’d say my comprehension is greatests in Spanish because I studied it for longer and in greater depth. English feels most like home, because that’s what I speak with my family.
What is your favorite word or phrase in another language besides English that is untranslatable to English? What does it mean?
Sprezzatura is a great word in Italian that means to be causally disheveled, with regards to fashion. The best way to describe it is to be purposefully careless–like nonchalant coolness.
When you speak in other languages, do you think in the language you’re speaking or translate the words from another language in your head before speaking?
For the most part I have to translate. The only time I actually began to think in another language was when I was abroad in Rome. After many days of just being around Italian speakers, I could begin to think in Italian. I think if I were in a Spanish speaking country for a long time as well I would be able to think in Spanish.
Nick Scott is an East Asian Studies major who attended CET Kunming Summer 2015, CIEE Accelerated Chinese Fall 2015, and Middlebury in Hangzhou Spring 2016.
Bridget Menkis is a fourth-year Russian Language & Literature Major and Computer Science Minor. Bridget spent Fall 2015 studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, and describes her experience below.
I spent last Fall studying in Russia through the CIEE-St. Petersburg program. I studied with about 50 other students from American universities, so we were all non-native Russian speakers just working on learning the language, which was super helpful to the learning process. There were two options within the program, a Language-Intensive program and an Area-Studies program, both of which consisted of five classes. I was doing the language program, so all of my classes were taught completely in Russian by native speakers. The Professors had all been at CIEE for a while though so they were very accustomed to teaching non-Russian students so that was great.
The program gives the option to live in a youth hostel or with a host family and I chose to stay with a host mom, which I think was a big factor in my language improvement. She only spoke Russian, but all-in-all it was a good thing because it forced me to practice my conversational skills even more since we could only communicate in Russian. I know a lot of the other students who stayed with host families felt the same way. Being immersed in the Russian culture, down to the home-level, definitely made a huge difference in my understanding of the language and made me certain it’s the right Major for me.
Rex is a third year Geology and Creative Writing double major from New York City who’s. studied are Spanish and Arabic in his academic career This interview was conducted in between his intense flashcard making for both languages.
Tell me how you started learning Spanish:
In middle school. The first thing I learned how to say was “el burro sabe mas que tu” That means means the “donkey knows more than you.”
How was that the first thing you learned?
She wrote it on the board.
How did you react?
I thought it was funny and kinda edgy because I was in fifth grade. Then I was like “Spanish can be used to say so many different things. Gotta learn it.”
You’ve taken Spanish forever. Why did you stick with it?
I was required by my school to take a language. My brother took French so I wanted to take something different. I didn’t want Chinese because I thought it would be way too hard. In high school all the cool kids took French. All the hard working kids took Chinese. Everyone else took Spanish.
You went to Spain for a year in high school. How was learning Spanish in Spain?
Really easy because you were practicing all the time. You went outside and you were practicing and everything was really applicable because I was doing Spanish in the real world, not in some classroom. I took school a lot less seriously that year. I didn’t get a deep understanding of the language but I got a good understanding of the culture. The other kids knew fundamentals better but I had the colloquialisms.
Why did you pick up Arabic when you came to Oberlin?
I needed a fourth class my sophomore year and I thought it would be cool. For a long time I’d been saying that I wanted to learn Hebrew because I’m Jewish and I wanted to relate to my culture somehow. Then I sorta realized that I’m really not that connected to that side of me. I thought about languages that were widely spoken. Arabic’s widely spoken and I sat in on a class and the teacher seemed cool. Arabic is also a lot different from the languages I know –a total departure. I thought it would be cool.
Any thoughts about Arabic at Oberlin?
Arabic is so widely spoken. It’s sad there’s not more interest for Arabic here. I mean the alphabet is used all over the world. The language is so distinct from the traditional languages we teach in America, like English, French, Spanish, you know? We think those languages are so distinct from one another but they almost use the same alphabet. Arabic’s like that. Arabic is like a completely different language in basically every Arabic country. If you speak to someone in Morocco and speak to someone in Iraq the two people are using the same alphabet but you wouldn’t necessarily feel like they’re speaking the same language. It’s kind of like if you heard someone speak English and someone else speaking French you’d recognize that they’re speaking two different languages. It’s such a large language too. I wish more students were interested in learning it.