Stammtisch German table in dining room

On Speaking A Foreign Language: A French, a German, and a Spanish Major Share Their Thoughts

Written by Jacquelyn Eubanks

After sitting down individually with the presidents of the French, German, and Spanish honoraries to talk about their respective foreign language majors, the feedback I got started to sound like a broken record: “A mix of culture, grammar, speaking, and literature,” “kind, encouraging, caring professors,” “trains your brain to think differently,” “opens up a world of opportunities,” “it’s the best second language to learn.” Should I have been surprised that they all had similar things to say? Perhaps not. But what about when the rubber meets the road? When it came to the most important test of all—the ability to finally speak the language they’d studied for years in a country where it’s the native language—these students rose up to meet the challenge and succeeded, feeling more empowered and confident.

Senior Laura Kleven, current president of the French honorary, Pi Delta Phi, spent the past summer touring Europe. While in a shop in Italy, a customer who only knew French tried to speak with the shopkeeper who knew Italian and English, but not French. Laura was able to be the middleman for their conversation, translating the French speaker’s questions to English for the shopkeeper to understand and then relaying his answers in French.

In a similar instance, senior Carly Reno, president of the Spanish honorary, Sigma Delta Pi, was able to translate between her dad and an employee at a gift shop in Mexico. He wanted to haggle with the employee for a lower price, and she heard the employee say in Spanish to a coworker, “We’ll sell for no less than twelve.” Carly’s dad was going to settle on fifteen, but she intervened, and they got the deal.   

Junior Peter Partoll, president of German honorary Delta Phi Alpha, spent some time last summer in Germany. While touring a castle, he decided to use an audio-guide in German to practice his listening skills. When he approached the audio-guide desk and requested the one for children—thinking he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the speed or complexity of the adult German audio-guide—the man who gave the guide to him, puzzled, asked why he wanted the kids’ version. When Peter explained he was from the United States, the man was stunned. He told Peter that he sounded like a native, and he thought the kids’ version would be too easy for Peter!

For those interested in studying French, Laura says, “Do it!” There’s a lot you can do with a French major.

“You can work for the Canadian government—you must be bilingual to do so. You can work for an embassy, the Peace Corps, or teach English in France.” She also mentioned that the best French class she’s taken thus far has been a one-credit phonetics course with Dr. Anne Theobald. “It’s amazing how hard you have to work to sound like a native. The way you make sounds is influenced heavily by your first language.”

If German is more your speed and you’re on the fence about studying it, Peter says, “Talk to the German professors and majors. They’ll impress you.” If you’re not sold after that, consider this: “It’s the most widely-spoken language in Europe; it’s widely-spoken in the business and political worlds; it’s becoming more and more important because Germany is an influential country that’s had a huge impact on history and the world today.” The best class he’s taken so far is Classical German Literature with Dr. Eberhard Geier. “Reading Goethe’s ‘Faust’ and Schiller, the country’s landmark works, in their original language? How cool is that?”

For potential Spanish students, Carly reassures you, “There’s no mediocre classes—all have been excellent and well-rounded. Take just one, and you’ll fall in love.” Besides the fact that taking a foreign language enhances your life and adds a whole new level of depth, Carly also added, “There are always jobs who want Spanish speakers; it’s likely to become required, and there’s a growing need in the job market today.” Her favorite class was Latin-American Boom Literature, which was interesting because “these are pretty famous books in Spanish-speaking countries, and I didn’t know about them until now.”

Jacquelyn EubanksJacquelyn Eubanks, ‘20, is a politics major with a penchant for writing. She spends most of her time as a coffee-sipping novelist dreaming of life as a fast-paced urbanite à la Friends. You can find her currently on social media (@TheJackyEubanks) and hopefully someday atop a mountain.

Published in February 2019