Luther College Chips

Professors explore their multilingualism

Professor of German Sören 
Steding believes that students have 
varying approaches towards learning 
languages.

Kaitlynn Swanson (‘22) | Chips

Professor of German Sören Steding believes that students have varying approaches towards learning languages.

Kaitlynn Swanson, Staff Writer

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For continued coverage of International Mother Language Day, Chips is featuring the experiences of professors speaking their native languages on campus.

Feb. 21 was International Mother Language Day, a day that celebrates multilingualism throughout the world. Professors on campus speak a variety of languages, many of whom speak a first language other than English.

Some professors believe that the extent to which they are able to speak their native language varies depending on the country. Instructor in French Aurélie Trampert moved to the United States in the summer of 2018 and is able to speak her native language while on Luther’s campus.

“Outside of class, I speak French with my colleagues,” Trampert said. “One of them is French, so obviously she speaks very good French, and the other one is American, but she speaks very good in French as well. It’s very easy for me — if I have any questions, any doubts, any issues, I can talk to them and I can ask any question I have, and they help me.”

“For many people, the language is the only connection they have with wherever they come from… it’s a way to know your history, the history of the family, the history of you.”

-Associate Professor of Computer Science Roman Yasinovskyy

Although some professors are able to speak their native language with colleagues, it can be difficult for them to find other ways to speak their language outside of those interactions. Trampert has found it difficult to converse with students in the same way that she converses with colleagues.

“With the students, it’s harder because they are not confident with the language, so they don’t try outside of class,” Trampert said. “They try only if I ask them. But it’s still a start and it’s elementary French, so I can’t expect them to have a big conversation in French. You know how it is — you have to go slowly and choose your words.”

Some professors have found that the general attitude towards learning a language can differ from country to country. Some people treat language as a necessary tool to navigate life and secure a job, while others see learning language as simply an educational option.

“I think it’s surprising because in Europe, if you go to college and you’re undecided, usually you do language because you can go many different places [with it],” Associate Professor of French Anne-Marine Feat said. “That seems to be obvious: that’s always going to helpful, that’s going to open doors. Whereas here, you hear of other schools that are cutting language programs or that high schools have very few choices in terms of languages. If you’re lucky, you have Spanish.”

Feat was born in France and began working at Luther in 2006. Feat is not alone in noticing the varying approaches towards language. Professor of German Sören Steding was born in Germany and now teaches in the United States, starting at Luther in 2004. He also feels that students have varying approaches toward learning languages.

“I think the biggest difference that a language teacher would notice between teaching in a place that is not the U.S. and teaching in the U.S. is that there is a general different attitude towards foreign languages in the United States,” Steding said. “It’s not exclusive to the United States, but even if you go to Canada you already have a different awareness because you have two languages that are part of the country-official languages.”

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Roman Yasinovskyy feels a connection to the history of his mother country through his first language. Since immigrating to the United States, Yasinovskyy speaks Ukrainian only at home, but the language is still part of who he is despite English becoming his primary language.

“I’m a first generation immigrant, so I spent half of my life in Ukraine before I came to the States,” Yasinovskyy said. “So for me, it’s not that distant of history. I grew up there. For many people, the language is the only connection they have with wherever they come from: Norway, Germany, England … So it’s a way to know your history, the history of the family, the history of you.”

Feat believes that language can even shape a person’s view of the world and emotions. Her transition from France to Ireland and then to the United States has changed how she expresses herself.

“I think you have a certain personality when you’re speaking French, [and] you have a certain personality when you’re speaking English,” Feat said. “I think part of it is connected to culture. I learned English in Ireland, and my English there was a little different from my English in America.”

Some professors find that teaching their own native language to students shifts their understanding of the language. They often experience learning more about their native tongue when they speak it with non-native speakers.

“I feel like I understand it better, because when you are in the country you don’t really think about it, you just do it, you live your life, you speak French,”  Trampert said. “When you have to explain your own language to an elementary class, you see it differently. It’s interesting because they give you another view on your own language. Having a new point of view on your own language, it’s very interesting.”

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