We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Janessa—a Colorado State University undergraduate who aspires to use her language skills in future Bible translation and education work.
1. You’re currently majoring in Spanish, with minors in French and Mandarin, and you self-study German: When did you begin learning languages? Would you say Spanish always came easily to you, or was there a moment when you noticed a shift?
I began learning Spanish in 6th grade, as it was mandatory in my school. I really struggled at first—language learning most definitely did not come easily to me. I struggled through a few months, frustrated with myself and with Spanish. After a particularly hard test, I knew I wanted to do better. I decided that I wanted whatever I do to be done to the very best of my ability. So, I took the time to really figure out my preferred way of studying and learning. Through that process, my Spanish skills improved rapidly and I also discovered my passion for world languages.
I continued with Spanish for another 7 years, until I took the Spanish AAPPL proficiency test through ACTFL my senior year of high school. I was empowered by my results. They gave me the confidence to continue more seriously on my Spanish journey into college, and explore other languages. I look forward to whatever may come next.
2. You earned a Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish and English as a high school student—congratulations! Why is it important for programs like the Seal to be available to all students?
The Seal of Biliteracy gave me such a sense of accomplishment: It was a true marker of the progress that I had made throughout my Spanish journey.
It gave me assurance of my abilities, and a real, tangible measurement of my language skills that I could show to myself, my family, and future employers. It has been of great value to me in several areas of my life—in work, my personal life, in my faith, and my community. If I had not had the opportunity to earn the Seal, I’m not sure that I would have had the confidence to continue in my studies and expand my Spanish in a more serious capacity and beyond.
The Seal of Biliteracy gives students a goal to strive for, faith in their abilities, and proof to the world of their perseverance. It truly opens up a whole new world of opportunities!
3. We’d love to hear about how you are able to use your language skills to connect with the global community!
I am part of the global community of Jehovah’s Witnesses; we have thousands of congregations in over 240 lands. We are completely unified in our faith, so no matter our language or country, every congregation studies the same Bible-based lesson each week. Because of that, I can study the lesson in advance in my target language and then attend a meeting via Zoom in that language.
I love being able to participate in that congregation’s spiritual discussions and enjoy the casual, friendly banter afterwards. It’s been such a privilege to build genuine relationships with people from all different backgrounds and languages even despite travel restrictions. One of my favorite memories was a Zoom visit to a congregation in Sweden, where afterwards there were over 7 different languages being spoken!
Locally, I have also enjoyed the international programs here at Colorado State University (CSU). The highlight of my experience has been the Chinese Club and Language Partner program. The CSU Chinese Club hosts film nights, calligraphy and paper cutting courses, Mahjong and tea days, etc. I also enjoy helping new friends from China adjust to life in Fort Collins through the Chinese Language Partner program. Together we build our conversation skills and establish cultural and personal connections through sponsored activities such as escape rooms, as well as just hanging out, grocery shopping, exchanging recipes, watching movies, and other fun adventures. It was a blast taking one of my new friends to meet a horse, her favorite animal, for the very first time! She fell in love immediately.
In addition to the Chinese Language Partner program, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with English language learners on Zoom at a partner university in France through Le Cercle Français, our CSU French Club. I really enjoy the various events they put on as well, such as French cheese tastings and game days, and the volunteer opportunities at the local bilingual school, AXIS, which holds classes in English, Spanish, French and Mandarin.
4. You’ve mentioned the importance of your faith as a personal motivator for you to keep learning languages—how so?
World language translation and my faith are the two most important aspects of my life, so I love to see them overlap! As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are known for two things—teaching about the Bible in our door-to-door ministry, and having the most widely translated website in the world, jw.org. Our website and free Bible literature is available in over 1,000 languages—sometimes being the only literature base available in that endangered or critical language.
Our goal is to provide the resources to learn about the Bible and its teachings in the language of their heart so that people have the option to learn if they so wish, and can develop their spirituality in their own way. As Revelation 14:6 puts it, there is “everlasting good news to declare… to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.”
5. What’s next on your language journey?
My dream would be to work in a world language field, ideally volunteering in translation and interpretation for Jehovah’s Witnesses at our World Headquarters in New York. We currently translate into 1,077 languages, and there is a vast variety of Bible-based articles as well as audio/video content produced each month. Also, since we are a global organization, there is a constant need for international and legal interpretation.
Otherwise, I would love to expand my preaching and teaching activities in a world language congregation. My job then would be to help support the local congregation and the broader community on a long-term basis. This would include providing free literacy classes, teaching one-on-one Bible lessons, and building up the community both literally through construction efforts, as well as spiritually through the Bible’s promise of a peaceful future.
Whether I use one of the languages that I currently speak or I learn a new language, I look forward to whichever assignment I am given! I can’t wait to get started!
Complete this thought: “Learning another language means…”
Learning another language means expanding your worldview and opening your heart to people.
I love people, and I want to genuinely connect with everyone I meet. I feel that meeting people where they’re at and making the effort to speak the language of their heart shows a deep sense of respect for them and for their culture, and in turn they also feel welcome in our community.
One of the best feelings ever is meeting an individual who doesn’t speak English, and seeing the absolute joy it gives them when they realize they can express themselves to me! I have so much to learn from others through their language, culture, and life experiences.
Check out our Connect with Spanish, French, and Mandarin pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.