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5 Questions for a Jeopardy Contestant Learning Spanish & French

Maya at the the podium on the set of Jeopardy!
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We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Maya—an Emory University human health and Spanish linguistics double major from Georgia who aspires to a career in public health.

1. Tell us a little about your earliest experiences with languages and cultures—at home and at school. What first motivated you to begin exploring languages, and when did you begin formal studies?

I grew up in a monolingual English household, but my mom taught me basic French at an early age. As I got older, I felt motivated to improve my French literacy and learn other languages. Although I study French in my free time, I have never received formal instruction in that language. I began Spanish classes in eighth grade, and I still study Spanish today.

2. Could you share more with us about your decision to double major? How would you say that your language education has served you in your science pursuits?

Plaza Mayor de Salamanca

When I began college, I thought I had to choose between my two passions: language and healthcare. I did not want to sacrifice one for the other. Thankfully, my advisor helped me create a four-year plan that allowed me to double major in Human Health and Spanish Linguistics.

My two fields of interest overlap much more than I imagined. Firstly, many scientific terms have Latin roots, so knowing Romance languages helps me understand complicated texts. Second, language is an essential component of how people understand health and well-being.

In multilingual settings, healthcare professionals must understand how information translates between languages and cultures. I truly believe that my linguistic skills and cultural competence will make me a better healthcare provider.
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (Valencia, Spain)

3. We’d love to hear more about your summer study abroad at the University of Salamanca! What was involved and what was the best part of this experience?

I lived in Salamanca, Spain, for six weeks.

For the first time in my life, I was fully immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment. I lived in a Spanish-speaking household, and all my classes were conducted in Spanish.

The time I spent outside of the classroom made the experience worthwhile. I got to use my language skills in real-world scenarios and challenge myself to learn new things.

The best part of the experience was my solo trip to Valencia. During my weekend there, I navigated the city and observed how Spanish interacts with Catalan in the coastal regions of Spain.

Experience is the best teacher, so I encourage everyone to immerse themselves in their target language.

4. Congratulations on your recent Jeopardy! participation! As a contestant and also president of your school’s quiz bowl team, would you say that language and cultural skills have contributed to your competitive trivia experiences? How so?

Some competitions have entire question sets dedicated to vocabulary or etymology. Knowing multiple Romance languages expands my understanding of Latin-based words.

The cultural competence that comes with language studies has also improved my knowledge of world history. For example, I took a class about Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. That class taught me about phonology and demographics, but I also learned about how Spanish colonization and American immigration policies have affected the use of Spanish in the U.S. I probably learned more about the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars in that class than in any American history course.

5. What has been your biggest takeaway or lesson learned from serving as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor for fellow students? Any tips for ways to practice language skills outside of the traditional classroom? What message would you share with fellow language learners?

I currently work as an ESL tutor for Korean clients, and I volunteer as an English literacy tutor for Spanish-speaking elementary school students.

Behind the Prado Museum (Madrid, Spain)

I always recommend that my students use what they love to teach them English. For example, if a person likes watching sports, I suggest that they listen to the broadcast in English or turn on English subtitles. If they like to read comic books, then they could buy English copies.

So many people associate language learning with classrooms and rigid rules; however, language is more than just a set of rules. It’s a part of everyday life. Something as simple as reading the morning news in a different language can greatly improve their linguistic skills.

I want fellow language learners to know their journey will not be linear. There will be easy days and difficult days. They may study diligently for months without feeling like they have made any progress. They may have to change their study habits or stop studying altogether because their lives are busy. Learning a language is not a simple process, but it is a rewarding one.


Complete this thought: “Learning another language means…"

Learning another language means gaining a new perspective on humanity.

Check out our Connect with Spanish, Connect with French, and Study Abroad pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.