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Languages at UW-Madison

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Rachel T.

Major(s) and Certificate(s) 

International Studies, Spanish, Global Cultures

Graduation Year 
Current city 
Little Rock
Current state/province/country (if outside US) 
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison? 

I have served as a PASS AmeriCorps volunteer at a neighborhood center and worked at the university level as a Card Services Assistant Director and a Human Ecology Graduate Program Coordinator and Department Administrator. I have also volunteered for several service committees and been a private Spanish and English tutor. I am happy to say that I have been able to use my language skills in each of these positions.

What motivated you to study this/these languages? 

In high school, I studied Spanish and really enjoyed it. It was fun to be able to communicate in another language, and I liked how language study is comprehensive; not only do you study the language itself, but also cultural aspects of the countries where it is spoken. 

I found that I had a natural inclination for learning languages and believed that knowing more languages would be beneficial for my career, so I decided that in addition to studying Spanish at UW, I would also study the Romance languages of Italian and Portuguese. I wish that I had had time to get degrees in all three languages, or even better, to complete the courses of study for all the Romance languages!

How have these languages enriched your life? 

Learning languages besides English has helped me to see the world from new and different perspectives. It has given me insight into other cultures and ways of living that are different from mine. Speaking to others in their native tongue has allowed me to communicate with them in a more precise manner and to connect with them on a deeper level. I have also received the chance to converse with and form relationships with people who did not know any English. Furthermore, being a Spanish speaker allowed me to study abroad in Ecuador, a country where it would be impossible to live and travel without knowing Spanish.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took? 

I felt like I was part of an intimate community. Since most of the classes were smaller, the students and professor knew each other well. I felt like the environment was one where I was free to ask questions and share ideas. UW’s language TAs and professors do an excellent job of providing an in-depth and complete language education. The professors are experts in their field who are passionate about teaching and exploring their specialty in their language.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences? 

I loved studying abroad because it gave me the opportunity to be immersed in a completely new culture. It was a challenge to have to use Spanish to communicate with almost everyone, but my language skills were greatly improved. I cherish the friends that I made and the unique experiences that I had. Studying in Ecuador also helped me to appreciate things that we as Americans often take for granted, such as a stable government, generally clean city air, and being able to flush toilet paper.

Being a part of an internationally-minded student organization was great as I was able to make friends from around the world. I helped them to understand American culture better by inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner and taking them on a hay ride to pick pumpkins, along with other things. It was also a wonderful learning experience for me; not only did I learn about other nations from the students themselves, but also from the organization, which was dedicated to bringing a global awareness to UW students.

Conversation tables were another great way to meet other language speakers and keep up, as well as improve, my languages.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?  

I have attended conversation tables and befriended people with whom I could speak in my secondary languages. I try to read books, listen to music, and watch television in Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian as much as possible. It also helps when I am able to use these languages for my job. I hope that I can travel abroad at some point and be able to further improve my foreign language skills.

What advice do you have for current language students? 

Take as many classes as you can while you are in school to gain as much knowledge about the language as you can. The UW-Madison language departments have some excellent, world-class professors who are leaders in their field; take the time to learn from them. Take every opportunity to practice your secondary language, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know? 

Guagua—Cuban Spanish for “bus”