Language Immersion and Speech Pathology

melanie turnerMelanie Turner is a 3rd year studying in Spain through UVA in Valencia for spring 2018. See her thoughts on how her time abroad has influenced her experience in her major!

At UVA, I study Speech Pathology in addition to Spanish. Throughout my time in Valencia, I’ve realized that my experience as a second language-learner might mimic the experience of people with communication disorders. In the same way that patients with Broca’s Aphasia struggle to explain their thoughts fluently, I sometimes find myself grasping hopelessly for words to express my ideas. Like stutterers, who might initially hesitate to speak up among strangers, I sometimes become timid among native Spaniards. Similarly to some people with a voice disorders, my inability to speak English sometimes makes me feel like I’ve lost a piece of my identity. While I certainly do not understand what it’s like to have these communication disorders, I do believe that my time in Spain has shaped how I view speech therapy. As I approach the halfway point of my semester abroad, I thought I’d share here are 7 things I’ve learned about speech pathology through language immersion:

1. Patience is crucial: When I first arrived in Spain, I was discouraged by my inability to speak fluently. In English, I enjoy finding the best word to explain my ideas, and in Spanish I frequently resort to the same limited vocabulary. I expected to see rapid progress within the first few weeks, but even after two months, it is still sometimes difficult for me to pinpoint exactly how I have improved. At times when I feel like I can’t see results, it’s easy to want to give up. In the same way, a speech pathology patient who
progresses slowly might become frustrated and want to halt therapy sessions, and a speech pathologist might lose heart when therapy goals are not reached. My language immersion experience has taught me that I should set ambitious but realistic goals, and that I should be patient to see these objectives realized.

2. Encouragement is key: When I feel frustrated by slow progress, I greatly appreciate verbal encouragement. I remember almost every time someone has specifically complimented my Spanish skills: When I first arrived, my host family’s daughter applauded my accent. When I visited with a pastor of a local church, he told me that my Spanish was advanced. When I went to a café with some of the youth from that church, they commented on how I spoke Spanish fluently. Just last night at dinner, my host parents mentioned that my level has improved since arriving. All of these comments remind me that language immersion is worthwhile, and they motivate me to keep trying. As a future speech pathologist, I hope I can remember how much these sporadic affirmations meant to me and provide the same kind of feedback to my clients.

3. Improvement is NOT passive: Another myth I believed before coming to Spain was
that just by being here I would become fluent. Certainly, being surrounded by the language solidifies certain skills, especially aural comprehension. However, language mastery does not happen without an intentional effort. If I want a word to become part of my vernacular, I have to consciously incorporate it into conversation. If I want to sound like a native, I have to speak to natives. If I want to learn new manners of expression, I have to study them. The same is true in speech pathology: clients have to do their homework if they want to improve, and clinicians have to put forth effort to plan the most appropriate and effective evidence-based practices. Improvement is possible, but it is an active process.

4. Language difficulties have a social dimension: Those who know me know that I am rather introverted. Small talk is exhausting for me, and back-to-back social interactions can wear me out. This poses a unique challenge for language immersion, which is inherently social. When I first arrived, all of the “getting to know you” conversations were taxing, and even now, there are some times when I choose not to add to conversations because expressing my thoughts in Spanish feels tiring. I imagine that people with communication disorders have similar experiences. Remaining silent might feel easier than mustering up the strength to communicate an idea, especially for introverts with speech/language challenges. Nevertheless, just as I would never improve my Spanish if I never spoke, these patients would never advance if they didn’t attempt to communicate. If I ever work with clients who share my tendency towards introversion, I hope I can affirm all the wonderful parts of being an introvert (for there are many!) while also encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of their
speech/language skills.

5. Correction is appreciated: One thing that I greatly appreciate when I am conversing with native speakers is correction. This past week, a friend from church invited me to her apartment for brunch with some other girls from church. One of these ladies has a degree in music education, and during our conversation, there were several times when she corrected my Spanish. When I thanked her, she laughed and apologized, saying that her tendency to correct is her “teacher’s flaw.” However, I insisted that my thanks were genuine; I would never improve if I were not told what I was doing wrong. While I recognize that if I were corrected all the time I would probably become disheartened, I also need to remember that most of the time, I desire this kind of instruction. In the same way, speech pathology clients – who want to improve their speech/language/voice just as much as I want to improve my Spanish – will probably welcome constructive feedback.

6. The process is never “finished”: Ever since I started taking Spanish classes in middle school, I imagined that studying abroad would be the culmination of language learning. After a semester in a Spanish-speaking country, I would finally be able to call myself “fluent.” Since arriving, I have realized how wrong this assumption was. Even my English is not completely “fluent” – in my translation class, we literally dedicated a class period to learning English idioms! I may never feel completely comfortable calling myself “fluent” in Spanish, but that is to be expected: language is a skill that I will improve throughout my whole life. Similarly, a person with a communication disorder may never be totally rid of the problem; for example, a stutterer may develop tactics to deal with stuttering without actually eliminating the root problem. Nevertheless, the lack of a clear ending point should not discourage the process.

7. The process is REWARDING: The aforementioned points may make both language learning and speech pathology seem overwhelmingly difficult; however, there is also incredible joy that comes with each of these processes! While some days progress feels slow, other days I find myself jumping up and down when I correctly use a Spanish idiom, audibly cheering myself on when I recollect new vocabulary words, or smiling broadly when I formulate sentences using tricky grammatical tenses. Furthermore, as I
learn a new language, the doors open to establish relationships that otherwise would not have been possible. While this is slightly different than what people with communication disorders experience, successful speech therapy can also open or reopen doors to new and/or old friendships, and even small steps towards an end goal can be thrilling. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of the Spanish language and for the opportunity to practice it, and I look forward to practicing a profession that is also highly gratifying. Although not everyone is a speech pathologist, I hope this blog shed some light on the
broad advantages of language immersion programs. Feel free to share any additional
thoughts about language immersion in the comments below!

Until next time,
Melanie 🙂

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Time Sailing By: Semester at Sea

Tarah Fisher is a Third Year Psychology major, currently at Semester at Sea.

I distinctly remember a Monday night during my first semester at UVA. I was anxiously waiting to tryout for the University Salsa Club’s showcase. Like any other nervous first year would do, I chatted up the friendliest looking person in sight and asked what dorm she lived in. She had just returned from a semester abroad, at sea specifically, and quickly I learned not to assume that everyone was also a first year. She took classes on a ship, traveled across many oceans, and made incredible friendships with her classmates and professors. I told her that I would never be able to live on a ship for that long.

My name is Tarah Fisher, and in two days I will embark on the MV World Odyssey for a Semester at Sea.

I am not entirely sure how I convinced my parents to let me travel around the world on a ship instead of the typical study abroad in Europe, and I do not foresee the awe wearing off anytime soon. Like many students who are lucky enough to study abroad, I have a deep desire to travel. I seek novelty experiences as they broaden my horizons, challenge my perceptions, and force me to grow in ways that sitting in comfort would not.

I am thrilled to be traveling to countries like Ghana, India, and Viet Nam where I will be thrown into cultures, languages, and environments drastically different than my own. I will learn what its like to be a traveler in a country where one can not understand why the bus driver is yelling at you because you do not speak the language, or how your waitress has a huge grin because you unknowingly left an abnormally large tip. For many, this sounds like a nightmare. But challenging experiences like these are extremely important; they remind us that we are human, and we must embrace the layers of differences instead of allowing them to divide us.

Although travel is one of the most influential opportunities a person can be given, I recognize the privilege that comes with study abroad. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received, yet I am nervous that I will not seize every moment of the privilege I have been gifted.

So, I write this to remind myself that the once-in-a-lifetime voyage begins now. Soon, the sounds of the ocean will become the soundtrack of my life. Time will sail by. Don’t blink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Introductions to Florence

Sarah Genovese is a Foreign Affairs major, who went to Florence, Italy in Spring 2017 during her third year.

I can’t believe what a whirl the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.

Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days wa going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.

This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.

Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!

Unhinged in Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello spent the entire 2016-17 year studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, participating in CET’s intensive Arabic language program. He shares an experience navigating social norms.

 

In an effort to compensate for all of the carbs I’ve been eating and the hookah I’ve been smoking, I decided to get a gym membership a couple of months ago and to my surprise, I’ve found that I actually really enjoy it. The gym I go to is called Troy 24/7 even though it doesn’t open until 5PM on Fridays and Saturdays. It sits on the main street, right on top of a hookah store and a barbershop staffed entirely by Syrians. The gym itself can politely be described as worn…for example, all of the pads on the machines are ripped and several pieces just seem to be held on by black electrical tape. It’s not the cleanest gym in the world, and the owner’s attempts to spruce it up, like painting blue triangles on the wall, only serve to emphasize that fact. Nevertheless, the staff are super nice and helpful, and the gym members – a weird assortment of foreigners, mostly Koreans; out-of-shape older men, and tattooed gym rats – have become a familiar community for me.

The other day when I went to the gym; however, I had a weird experience that left me a little wiser. And although I generally tend to hate blog posts where X-encounter taught me Y-valuable lesson about myself/culture/life in general, I really want to talk about it since it helps me simply articulate a concept that I’ve been struggling with.

Usually when I go to the gym, I bring a bottle of water; however, this time I forgot and so I went to the front desk, paid for a bottle of water, and watched as the owner used his fingers to unscrew the hinges on the door of the broken refrigerator where the water bottles are stored. No big deal. The next time, I also forgot to bring a bottle of water, so I put some money on the counter, went to the fridge and started to unscrew the hinges. The employee on duty, Abu Noor, an Egyptian working in Jordan because the economy is better (which tells you all you need to know about how awful the situation is in Egypt), saw me as he was walking past and cried out, “Stop! What are you doing? You can’t do that!”

He marched up to me and I started to explain myself, but he cut me off, “No you can’t do that. It’s not your place. When you go to the store and there’s something you want but can’t reach, you don’t climb the shelves, do you? You ask whoever’s working there.” Abu Noor kept getting more and more agitated as he tried to explain this concept to me. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. But it’s not your fridge, just because Muhammed (the owner) did it doesn’t mean you can!”

At this point, I was extremely confused and could not figure out what he was getting so worked up about. I’d apologized, it was an innocent mistake, and not even a big deal to begin with! Realizing this, Abu Noor grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “I know you’re a respectable guy, studying Arabic, and that you want to learn as much as you can. But you need to know that when you study a language, you’re actually studying three different things: language, culture, and behavior.” It then dawned on me that he wasn’t actually mad at me, rather he was offended by the way I had just assumed that I could go about something, which in his mind wasn’t my place to do.

Although those words aren’t innocent, particularly “behavior” in a patriarchal society, I think that they’re really insightful. Learning a language, especially when you’re overseas, isn’t just about grammar and vocabulary. The ultimate goal of language learning is to be able to use that language to communicate with and connect with other people. Additionally, every word, phrase and interaction is shaped by an enormous amount of implicit cultural, historical and social knowledge. We take it for granted, but every time we interact with someone else from our own culture, we’re drawing on an entire lifetime’s worth of interactions and operating within a very firm, defined set of social norms. It’s a reminder that you need to get out of the classroom to gain a full understanding, and it doesn’t just apply to language learning, but to every field of academic learning.

Thoughts on being an American abroad

Caroline Alberti is currently studying abroad in Toulouse, France,  on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!

I love speaking French, going out, and meeting people. In fact, I have been trying to go out more here in an effort to meet more people and speak more French (it’s educational Mom and Dad, I promise!). Before coming here, I was nervous about how I would received in French social situations as a foreigner. I’d heard stereotypes that French people were more closed off, or easily offended by imperfect control of their language. However, I have found this not at all to be the case. While I definitely think that French people are less open than Americans, the people I have met have been very kind and I have met a lot of great people.

The funny thing is though, meeting new people here in France is almost formulaic. If you are American and deciding to travel abroad anytime soon (like in the next 4 years to be exact) you may want to expect the interactions of the following sort:

Step 1: The “Bonjour”

The greeting, usually a bonjour and a bise is the first engagement. As I said before I am still  getting used the kiss-greeting thing. This is the step where very quickly my accent is detected. I have a love-hate relationship with my accent. On one hand I think it gives more liberty to make mistakes and makes me interesting. On the other hand, I don’t find American accents particularly pleasing but that could just be me.

Step 2: The “Where are you from?”

The accent thing inevitable triggers there “Where are you from?”. When this happens I have decide how annoying I want to be, and I either give a direct answer or I say “guess!!”. It’s really interesting to me to see where people think I am from. Almost never has someone guessed American. Most often I get English, or German and occasionally Irish, which is so surprising to me because I think that my accent just screams “AMERICAN”.

I think people don’t usually guess American because in fact in Toulouse there are not really that many Americans since it’s not a super popular spot for American study abroad programs. I actually really like this about Toulouse, since it means that being an American here is kinda special, and meeting other Americans here is rare which makes encountering one of my compatriots here is out of the ordinary and so when it does happen it’s a treat.

There “Where are you from questions” extends to where exactly in the United States I am from, where I have a little existential crisis not knowing whether or not to say PA or VA.

Step 3: The “TRUMP” Part

It may not happen right away (all though often it does). We may get talking about the weather, or studies, or music or whatever, and I’ll think I’m safe… but no no no. The question always comes sooner or later: “So…. what do you think of Donald Trump?”

*Sigh* Then there it is. The unavoidable topic as an American abroad in this day and age.

When I first starting receiving this question, I was a little surprised, but not at all bothered. In fact, I was glad to have an open ear to my rantings about the madness of this past election. It’s something, that like most Americans, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on (which I won’t really put in this blog because it is not a blog about politics– though I feel like anyone who knows me probably knows where I stand politically). However, with each politically charged discussion I began to get more and more tired of talking about how crazy and doomed my country is (even though a big part of me agrees).

I think the political situation in our country makes it a really weird time to be an American abroad. I am surprised with the bluntness that French people approach this topic with me, since in French culture, personal things like that aren’t discussed as upfrontly. I am also surprised how blunt people are because in theory (though NOT in reality) I could be a Trump supporter. So far, I haven’t met any French person who aligns themselves with Trump’s ideals (if you can call them “ideals”), although with the way the French election cycle is going, I am sure they are out there. When I am asked about politics in America, I think they make the assumption that I am (rightly) unhappy about the current situation. I never feel like I am being blamed or aggressed for Trump’s election, which is something I was worried about before coming. More accurately I feel like the topic is breached with a sense of curiosity and often with pity as well.

It’s frustrating to repeat the same conversation, but it’s one I feel like I have to engage in or else people with think that I don’t have opinions on it or that I support Trump, both of which are definitely not true.

But over all, it’s hard to complain about people being interested in my country and wanting to hear my opinion. I am glad to be able to represent my country abroad at a time like this when a lot of bad images are presented of the United States abroad. In fact, this type of cultural diplomacy that happens within each exchange, the sharing of ideas and opinions, is one of the reasons I love traveling and studying abroad. These interactions, the ones I have had both here and in Morocco and elsewhere have definitely challenged me and helped me widen my horizons and perspectives, and for that I am very grateful.

So Frenchies, keep the questions coming. I promise you I will have an answer.

Anyway, hopefully this post wasn’t too political, rant-y, or pessimistic. I’ll try to whip up a little something more lighthearted next post!

ALSO, since this post was very light on pictures, enjoy this photo of my best friend in Toulouse and love of my life, Cissi, my host dog.

Isn’t she beautiful?? My heart melts every day when I see her.

Pce, luv, & politics,

Curbie 😉

 

 

Why I studied abroad

Alexis Ferebee is a third-year currently studying abroad in Lyon for the semester. Check out her decision to study abroad below!

I almost didn’t study abroad. During my first 2 years at UVA I had decided that leaving the country would be more of a hassle than anything. After all, I was probably just going to major in Media Studies anyways. Then, at the end of fourth semester, I realized how much I greatly enjoyed French, and decided to double major. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about studying abroad. Suddenly, at the beginning of this school year, I realized that I would be wasting the chance of a lifetime and that I needed to apply. Luckily, I had this enlightening realization just in time to submit an application for the spring semester, which would have been my last opportunity. And now here I am.

Tomorrow I leave to study abroad in Lyon, France for 5 months. I have done so much preparation for this moment and yet I feel like I still have so much to do. I have realized though, that stressing about it doesn’t help much. I truly do not know what to expect from this experience, and do not have many preconceived notions, but I do have many aspirations. First of all, I want to be able to enhance my French. This seems pretty obvious but the betterment of my French could help sway me in a certain direction career-wise. I also want to make international friends. I say this because I have two very good American friends going with me on this trip and I don’t want to just hang out with them while speaking English. I can do that any time. My biggest goal is to gain more confidence. Even now, I am sitting at my computer worrying about many insignificant details about my trip but I want to be more sure of myself, and I feel like this trip will give me the independence I need to make this happen.

There is such a mix of anxiety and excitement that I can’t explain. I’ve never quite experienced anything like this in my life, so I guess that feeling is pretty normal. I am anxious about my flight, my train, but most of all, my communication. I am confident in my French abilities, but what if I forget and freeze up? I guess I will have to wait and see what the next few days bring. All I know is that I am excited to be in a beautiful country studying a language I love!

 

 

Study Abroad – Round Deux

 Morgan King is currently studying abroad in Morocco for the semester. Follow her travels below!

 

 

Greater known fact: I speak French.

Lesser known fact: I am minoring in African religions.

What do you get when you combine those things and walk into the study abroad office? MOROCCO! Starting January 25th I will be living in Africa… AFRICA!!! My wildest dream is coming true!

For the next four months I will be studying Arabic, taking politics courses in French at l’Université Internationale de Rabat and conducting research for my masters thesis. Excitingly, a week of the program takes place in Grenada, Spain!

I’ve spent years building my French, months building my Morocco-appropriate wardrobe, and days building my courage to finally get on this plane.  I am so excited and incredibly nervous for the intellectual, cultural, and social challenges that the next few months will provide; but I am also soo ready for the camels, couscous, and caftans.

I’ve been asked so many times “why take this risk?”,” why Africa?”, “why Morocco?”.  Honestly, I don’t have a good answer other than this: I’m following my heart. I’ll keep you updated on why as I figure it out myself! For now, here are my goals for my semester in Morocco:

  1. SPEAK FRENCH: This might be an obvious one but, really, I want to force myself to speak French and not cheat by speaking English because it’s easier. I’m here to be immersed and I’m going to do it!
  2. TRAVEL: I’ve been to Europe twice but I’m so excited to take advantage of my close proximity to lesser-known parts of the continent. Marseille, Amalfi, and Santorini are calling my name! Also, MOROCCO IS SO COOL. Rumor has it a $10 bus ticket will take you across the country. We’ll see where I end up!
  3. EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE: Morocco is pretty westernized but as a Muslim State it has so much to offer from a non-western perspective. I am thrilled to learn more about Moroccan culture and to experience some reverse culture shock when I arrive back in the US!

Thanks for reading along as I run around northern Africa in my ankle length dresses! Merci à lire!