"In addition, knowing these languages and using them to communicate with speakers of these languages made it possible for me to truly see and understand what they are saying. This is because I feel that the process of translating a foreign language (in my case, Hmong and Lao) into English usually results in the loss of some of a phrase's true meanings."
Major(s) and Certificate(s): Geography, Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development Majors
Graduation Year: 2016
Current Location: Madison, WI
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Geography.
What motivated you to study this/these languages?
My two primary motivations for studying the Hmong language were to reconnect with my culture and to be able to communicate with the elders in a way that would allow me to more deeply analyze and understand the true essence of what they are saying. My primary motivation to study Lao was so that I can communicate with non-Hmong speaking citizens in Laos while conducting my Ph.D. dissertation research on changing livelihood strategies due to external factors such as time-space compression and the market economy.
How have these languages enriched your life?
These languages have enriched my life in that they made it possible for me to communicate with non-English speaking people who only spoke the targeted native language(s). This would not have been possible if I wasn’t able to communicate with them. In addition, knowing these languages and using them to communicate with speakers of these languages made it possible for me to truly see and understand what they are saying. This is because I feel that the process of translating a foreign language (in my case, Hmong and Lao) into English usually results in the loss of some of a phrase’s true meanings.
What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?
What I remembered most about the language classes was that they were intense yet fun and fulfilling. Many times I left the classroom with not only a smile but perhaps more importantly, with questions directed toward what I learned in that particular class period and how I can use what I have learned to better myself and my surroundings. I find myself walking to my next class thinking about the words learned that day and critically scrutinizing it to see if there are other hidden or subliminal meanings behind those words.
How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?
Participating in various activities that allow me to use the targeted languages in a ‘normal’ setting outside of a classroom were extremely valuable as it allowed me to practice my communication skills in a ‘real-life’ setting. Gaining these experiences are crucial to truly understand a language as many times the real-world is starkly different from the classroom world.
How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?
I usually practice reading and writing the Hmong language with my friends, families, and acquaintances. In addition, I would make it a personal requirement to write blogs and posts (e.g. on social media such as Facebook) in Hmong multiple times a week in order to improve my competency in the Hmong language. Improving my Lao language proficiency is a bit harder as there are fewer opportunities for me to use the language now that I am back in the US. However, I do try to look over the vocabularies as well as try to read articles when I have opportunities to do so.
What advice do you have for current language students?
Set time aside each night to look over new vocabulary words. It doesn’t have too many and could be as few as five or 10 but look them over, understand them, and memorize them. Do this every night and soon you will be able to communicate with native speakers of that language with ease.
What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?
Hmong – Yav pem suab (the future)