Language at La Salle: benefits of multilingual communication


Alina Snopkowski, Editor

Happy Foreign Language Awareness Week, La Salle! There are countless benefits to studying a foreign language, far too many to put into one article, but we tried our best. Hear from students, alumni and professors on why they’ve learned multiple languages.

Margot Santos, ‘22 Political science and international relations major, LGU minor

Spanish, Portuguese and English; learning French, Italian and Russian

“I speak Spanish, Portuguese and English fluently as I grew up trilingual. I have an intermediate level of French, I can read and write and speak but I wouldn’t say I’m fluent yet. Italian I can understand a lot due to the Spanish language and when I studied it I could grasp it quite easily but I would say I have a good foundation of the language. I am currently studying Russian. This is my second semester taking the language and it is quite different from the other ones I know. It is a great challenge but I am fascinated and enjoy learning. I hope to add more languages to the list after I graduate.

I am very passionate about languages. I find it fascinating how much you can learn about not just the culture, but the people who speak that language. Communication is so important and is a tool used for everything in life. It makes a massive difference when you are able to speak to someone in their mother tongue. That feeling of trust, comfort and familiarity is instantly there. Not only this, but it is a great challenge and humbling experience as the learner to go out of your comfort zone and into someone else’s common ground. Language is what connects us and allows us to understand one another. It also makes traveling easier.”

Kashish Patel, ‘25 Finance and international business major

English and Gujrati; learning Spanish and Japanese

“I wanted to learn these languages because I want to visit Japan as well as Spanish speaking countries. I also used to teach at a tutoring center, which mainly worked with foreign kids who spoke little to no English, so it helped me a lot to have some knowledge of other languages. I think it’s super helpful to know several languages, especially living in the United States because of how many different languages people speak today. It’s helped me communicate with international friends that I’ve made as well.”

Dr. Barbara C. Allen, professor of history

English and Russian; studied French, Spanish and German

“I enjoyed taking French and Spanish courses in high school and wanted to try learning a different language in college. I chose Russian because the U.S. State Department considers it a critical language for international diplomacy and because the Cyrillic alphabet looked interesting. I found the alphabet was the easiest thing to learn. Russian grammar was much harder, because it is so different from English. But it was a very intellectually engaging subject to study. I decided to teach and research the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, so proficiency in the Russian language was obligatory. I need to read primary sources in Russian and read the work of Russian and Soviet historians, much of which has not been translated into English. It is important to study another language to have insight into another culture and a richer perspective about one’s own culture and society.”

Ciara Ledgard, ‘22 — Spanish major, Latin American studies and human services minor

Spanish and English; learning Italian and French

“I have been studying Spanish for several years, and learning Spanish helped me at my summer job when a lot of my fellow employees spoke Spanish as their native language. It helped to be able to communicate with them more clearly.”

Stephen Walton, administrative assistant for the departments of global languages, economics and political science

French and English, learning Japanese

“I speak French, as I took it in school since seventh grade and was a French Studies major when I was a student at Arcadia University. I’m currently trying to learn Japanese, but it’s far more difficult and different than French.

I learned French since my great-grandmother is French and came to America after WWII after marrying my great-grandfather, an American soldier. My mom was actually raised by my great-grandmother, so her upbringing was influenced by French culture.  My mom embraced this part of her heritage and passed it on to me and my two younger brothers. French is one of the biggest and most widespread languages in the world, so you can never go wrong learning French. Even many of our next door neighbors, the Canadians, speak French. Many of the departments I’ve worked in at universities involve language or study abroad, so it’s always been a huge benefit for me to be able to speak a foreign language.

As for Japanese, I’ve always been a fan of traditional Japanese culture as well as its pop culture. I’m a huge fan of anime, Japanese video games and the subcultures surrounding them, so it only makes sense that I learn Japanese with all the Japanese media I consume. Japan is also the country I dream most of visiting, so it would be great to be able to speak Japanese at least somewhat with native speakers.”

Oksana Chubok, professor of Russian

Ukrainian, Russian and English

“I am Ukrainian and my native language is Ukrainian, but by education I am a teacher of Russian language and literature. I fell in love with the Russian language at school, when I got acquainted with the works of Russian writers: Pushkin, Lermontov and Chekhov. I am a graduate of La Salle University; in 2010 I completed the program of Central and Eastern European Studies and received a master’s degree. Since 2010 I have been teaching Russian at the University. I love my students and my job!

Now, knowing the Russian language, I can use it in the fight against Russian propaganda. I try to reach out to those Russian-speaking people who to this day justify the actions of Vladimir Putin, who turn a blind eye (who close their eyes)  to the genocide of the Ukrainian people. There is no excuse for war!”

Elena Tzivekis, ‘21 — Communication major

English and Greek; learning Russian

“I learned Greek while growing up, and knowing the language of my ancestors helps connect me to my roots and also communicate with my family in the states and overseas as well. I decided to take Russian in college, because it is spoken by a handful of relatives on my mom’s side and I have always been fascinated by the language itself. While at La Salle, I had the privilege of learning Russian from one of my favorite professors at La Salle, Professor Chubok. It has helped me personally because it has brought me closer to some of my Russian-speaking family members, and I hope to one day visit Russia and develop my Russian even further.”

Danielle O’Brien ’24, International relations major, Spanish minor

Spanish and English; learning Mandarin

“At first I took Spanish throughout high school because, like most American students, it is required for graduation. But there is a fine line between simply learning a language to pass and learning it to learn it. I started getting discouraged when I noticed my peers around me were retaining the material faster than myself, so I dropped my upcoming Spanish class and decided to take up peer ESL tutoring instead as I thought that was a good way to still practice the language. I was astonished at how much more quickly I could pick up the language speaking with actual native speakers than simply sitting in a classroom. But aside from the opportunity allowing me to learn a second language better, it gave me the opportunity to see first-hand the effect on peers my age as a result of their status in the United States. It consequently inspired me to advocate for change. My experience as a peer ESL tutor for that program in my high school led me to major in international relations and minor in Spanish here at La Salle University, where I am still tutoring peers of an immigrant background in English through the BUSCA program. Thankfully, in my high school, beginners’ Mandarin was offered, which I took for two semesters. However, I’ve been unable to learn more in my higher education as it is not taught here at La Salle. Nevertheless, I can definitively say there is importance in learning languages as the peer tutoring demonstrated to me; language can help people of all backgrounds come to a common ground and thus it is the most essential thing one can learn.”

Dr. Mark Thomas, professor of political science

Russian, German and English; reading proficiency in Polish, Ukrainian, Dutch, Spanish and French

“I learned languages because it increased my marketability when I was looking for work, either in business or government work. Knowing a language removed barriers to communication with my non-U.S. colleagues and opened up topics of discussion in which my business partners did not know the English vocabulary. More speaking in their language built incredible rapport with my professional colleagues in government and business. It showed I cared enough about them and their traditions that I would learn their language. It also enabled me to get insights from listening to their news and reading their newspapers which eluded my monolingual mammal U.S. colleagues. It also allowed me to avoid cultural blunders, which hurt marketing efforts. The classic example of this is the Chevy Nova car. It did not sell well in Spanish-speaking countries.  “Nova” means “it does not go” in Spanish. Oops! By the way, Americans are one of few people in the world who are arrogant enough to think they do not need to learn another language. Almost every country around the world teaches a second language throughout school.”

Bianca Abbate, ‘21 — International relations major

Russian, Italian and English; studied German

“Studying foreign languages, especially Russian, opened doors for me. In 2019, I was able to spend a summer in Russia through a State Department scholarship. More importantly, now is an especially critical time to have a knowledge of Eastern European languages and cultures, given the devastating war in Ukraine. I think that my education in foreign languages has deepened and personalized my understanding of the ongoing tragedies overseas. I feel a special duty to educate myself on the issues. Studying Russian has also brought many Russian and Ukrainian people into my life — people I now think about every day. I’ve been keeping in touch with a few friends in Russia on social media, one of whom sends me pictures of protests in the major cities. While I don’t currently use Russian in my professional life, I expect to see more opportunities to do so in the future. It is weird to think that, if I had not gone to Russia when I did (just before the pandemic and before wartime), I may never have seen Russia in my lifetime.”

Alina Snopkowski, ‘22 — Economics and international studies and criminal justice major, history minor

English and Russian; learning Polish

“I have always been interested in languages and writing, and being able to understand more than one language means you are able to learn from so many more people. You also have access to more information than you would’ve had otherwise. I have been learning Russian at La Salle and while I can’t claim to be even close to fluent, I understand it well enough to be able to read the news from other countries — for example, I am interested in international relations and international politics, so sometimes I read the official state media from Belarus because I think it’s interesting and important to see how the government there presents situations and talks about things. Also, speaking a fair bit of Russian helped me communicate with people I worked with who didn’t speak much English.

People see my name and think I speak Polish; I’ve been on Zoom meetings with people who see my name pop up and then they start speaking Polish with me. It’s pretty embarrassing when I can’t say much. The only Polish I know is the basics through Duolingo and bad words through my family, but one of my goals is to learn Polish and go to Poland someday (with my grandmother). I would love to travel, and speaking more than just English would help me better communicate with people in different places and learn about them and their countries.”

Liz McLaughlin, ‘22 — PPE and finance major, Spanish minor

English and Spanish

Think about how much more connected the world would be if each person spoke, on average, three languages. I know that’s a lot, and I can only claim two — English and Spanish — but what a world that’d be! A big reason why I’ve enjoyed learning Spanish since I started taking classes in eighth grade is because it enables me to connect with people from other cultures in a more challenging way than if I only ever interacted with those who only speak English. Some of my favorite travel memories include traveling to places where I can communicate in Spanish; sometimes it’s nerve-wracking, especially when you’re talking to someone who speaks very quickly. But on the flip side, it’s a confidence booster to be able to adequately express yourself in another language. I firmly believe we should amp up our focus on foreign languages in American schools; I learn about how money varies from country to country, so why shouldn’t we also emphasize how people communicate those transactions? In an increasingly global and connected world, we shouldn’t fall behind on the most basic thing that unites us all: communication.”

Dr. Vicki Ketz, professor of Spanish, chairperson of the department of global languages, literature and perspectives

“I grew up in a multilingual household, so speaking foreign languages was normal for me. My father was in international business, and this is why my family lived in different countries all over the world. Wherever we would move, I would learn the language of that country.

Studying a global language is really more than learning words and grammar. You learn to communicate with other people from other countries. More importantly, you learn about different cultures: their history, their art, their political structures, their religion and their values. It opens your eyes to different perspectives; not everyone sees the world the way you do. Understanding the way people think is very important in any field that you may work. Maybe if humans were better at it, there would not be as much conflict in the world.

For me, learning a foreign language is like deciphering a puzzle with multiple variables, and I love breaking a code. I can remember being in Greece one time and using the knowledge that I had learned in my ancient Greek class to decrypt the signs. (Columbia required Latin and ancient Greek for PhD coursework, but I never thought I would use it.) But yet, there I was reading the Euclidean alphabet to understand what was written. That was pretty cool!”

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