Kate T.

"UW-Madison has many areas where you can hang out with people who speak the language you're trying to learn, whether via a language exchange or a group meet up like at the French house or the Arabic house."

Major(s) and Certificate(s): French Language; African Languages and Literature

Language(s): French & Arabic

Graduation Year: 2013

Current city: Milwaukee, WI 

What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?

After graduating, I worked briefly as a substitute teacher before abandoning the 9-5 workforce for a job as a flight attendant for a major US airline. I have flown all over the world, both for work and pleasure, and get to meet and work with new people who are as passionate about travel and culture as I am. The job has suited me very well, as I get considerable time off to travel the world, and at a significantly reduced cost, no less. I also have an extremely flexible schedule that gives me lots of freedom to substitute teach part-time, as well as volunteer in my community.

What motivated you to study this/these languages?

I was passionate about French since middle school, where I had a series of wonderful teachers that encouraged me to open my eyes to the world around me. When I got to UW-Madison, I continued to have great professors who were always supportive of my ventures. For Arabic, I was always curious about it as my family is half Egyptian. The culture was there, but growing up, the Arabic language was a missing link. Studying it in college enabled me to connect with my grandparents and family in ways that I couldn’t before. The dual complexity and simplicity of Arabic intrigued me, and the variety of cultures and traditions practiced across the Middle East and Southeast Asia kept me coming back for more.

How have these languages enriched your life?

I use French and Arabic on a day-to-day basis on my flights as an interpreter, and the extra money certainly doesn’t hurt. It also feels good to be able to help a family get their vacation started on the right foot – or end on the right note – by being able to answer their questions and talk with them. Additionally, when I travel, both languages come in handy with being able to find my way around many countries, even some I didn’t expect. Arabic helped me make friends in the Netherlands, and French helped me make friends in Albania. After learning two languages, I can learn new languages easier and quicker, as I already know how my brain likes to memorize new vocabulary and grammar rules. My Spanish is vastly improving, and my Russian is coming along nicely as well.

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

My UW language classes were much smaller than most of my other courses, and they were intense and discussion-based, which I loved. Being able to talk to someone and being forced to rack your brain for how to say something is the best way to learn a language, in my opinion. It makes you seek out new vocabulary, and you learn so much from the person you’re talking with – it’s a win-win. The professors were also very understanding and were adept at gauging the class discussions and providing extra instruction at points we struggled with.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?

For my first year, I lived in the Arabic dorms with the ILC (International Learning Community), and that was so helpful with my beginning Arabic classes. Speaking Arabic all the time and learning new vocabulary words for things we hadn’t covered in class (like “desk” or “I am waiting for my pizza delivery”) created a solid base for the rest of my years in Arabic at UW. I also studied abroad for a semester at Université Aix-Marseille in Aix-en-Provence studying French and Arabic. I also spent a summer doing an intensive language program at Tours. Both programs improved my French exponentially, and learning Arabic at a French university was informative and fascinating with the different techniques used. I also grew as a person, becoming vastly more outgoing and extroverted. Studying abroad was a transformative experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

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

I use both languages every day at work, helping and chitchatting with passengers as I fly them around the world. I also travel frequently for fun, and being able to speak multiple languages is incredibly useful.

What advice do you have for current language students?

Keep studying, and always be looking for the best learning techniques that work for you. Not everyone can make some flash cards and be fluent in a week – don’t forget to listen to music and read books and watch movies in the target language, and make friends that you can chat within that language. UW-Madison has many areas where you can hang out with people who speak the language you’re trying to learn, whether via a language exchange or a group meet up like at the French house or the Arabic house.

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

voyager – meaning to travel!