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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Romance Languages & Literatures Major

Portrait photo of Ella standing on a sidewalk
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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 Ella—a Bowdoin College student from Ohio learning French and Spanish with dreams of living in a Francophone country.

1. Could you share with us a little about your earliest experiences with languages and cultures—at home and at school? Why French?

My earliest experience with French came from my mom, who read books and sang songs to us in French when I was little.

My grandmother studied French all her life, so it was important to my mom that my brother and I do the same. Even though I didn’t understand most of it—which sometimes made me really mad!—it felt like something special that we did together, and it made me really excited to learn French in school when the time came.

I still love talking in French with my few family members who speak it.

2. Do you remember a favorite activity or project/unit completed as a high school student of French?

In my last year of high school, we read Le petit prince in French class. In the story, the little prince visits seven planets, each with one lonely occupant who is stuck on his planet because he is too vain, too scared, too obsessed with rules, etc.

At the end of the year, we each wrote an extra chapter featuring an eighth planet and an eighth eccentric person. It was the first time I had ever tried to write anything funny in French, and I absolutely loved it. My planet featured a nervous little man surrounded by piles of souvenirs he couldn’t bear to part with. I still have the paper book we made with everyone’s chapters from the class. I look back at it from time to time and cringe a little at my grammar, but it’s still fun to see myself just starting to really express myself in my second language.

3. We’d love to hear more about your experiences with Multilingual Mainers! In what ways have you participated and what would you say have been your biggest lessons learned?

Absolutely! For a little background, Multilingual Mainers is a partnership between Bowdoin College and our local elementary schools to share the student knowledge and multilingual resources of Bowdoin with an aim to promote intercultural awareness, anti-bias education, and a passion for language learning at a young age.

This semester, I’ve been a part of the Lunchtime Reading Program where I read books in French to a group of kindergarten students during their lunch. It’s a great way for me to get off campus and have some fun reading to kids, who go crazy for Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar in any language, as I have learned. Last year, I was paired with another student in a Classroom Teaching Partnership where we taught French to a class of first-graders once a week.

Through Multilingual Mainers I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some of the school’s new Mainers, many of whom speak Portuguese and French. I’ve been working with the English as a Second Language teacher at the school to build a library of Portuguese and French books for these students to take home and read with their parents to keep up fluency in their home language as they learn English. It’s been so rewarding for me to get out of the “Bowdoin bubble,” as we call it, and to get involved in the town community.

I feel like I’m really making a positive impact on the place I’m living in for four years, not just another student passing through.

4. What have been some of your favorite language or culture classes to take at the university level—and why?

I’m currently taking a French class about the fait divers, a journalism genre of tabloids and true crime. We’ve read mystery novels and watched films based on true events, and even written some of our own short stories based on faits divers.

5. What’s next on your language journey?

I just started taking Spanish this semester, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. If anyone else is considering picking up a third language, I definitely recommend it! It really is true that once you’ve learned a second language, you’ve got the framework down for picking up new vocabulary and grammar.

You know how you learn languages best. Growing up in the U.S., we’re around Spanish all our lives. It’s been so fun to start to understand such a familiar language when I hear it in songs or catch snippets from people speaking Spanish.

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