Keck Center Language Ambassador Oneida Shushe ’19 interviewed Annie Wang ’19.
What languages do you speak/study?
My native language is Mandarin Chinese, I speak English, and I study Japanese. I took one semester of Italian but I can’t speak it. Right now I’m in my second semester of Japanese at Colgate. I started learning Japanese at a summer program in Tokyo, and I also studied Japanese at Middlebury College with a Lampert Summer Language Scholarship from Colgate. Middlebury was amazing and really immersive. You pledge only to speak the language that you’re studying and you meet a lot of different people.
Did you study languages before coming to Colgate?
How has language study been different for you at Colgate than it was in high school or in other places?
I actually find it hard to fit everything into my schedule at Colgate – I’m a History major and a Writing and Rhetoric/Asian studies double minor, so I’m sometimes really busy. Luckily I’m able to do intensive study at places like Middlebury so I can come back to Colgate and jump in to higher level language classes. You have to actively organize and seek opportunities in college and planning can sometimes be challenging.
What has been your favorite language class/professor on campus?
I’m in Advanced Japanese I this fall and I love it. I feel like I can slow down and appreciate the subtleties and aesthetic of the language instead of just rushing forward to catch up and learn grammar and basic things. When you learn enough of a language, you really get the opportunity to slow down and learn in a different way.
Have you done any interesting research projects at Colgate?
The summer after my sophomore year I did a project with my friend Priya that we presented at a conference for student researchers from the NY6 liberal arts consortium. We talked about the politics of English as a second language for international students of color on NY6 campuses, particularly in relation to race, gender, nationality, and culture. A language isn’t always just a language – it can be highly political. For instance, US tourists in Japan usually feel comfortable speaking very little Japanese, but Japanese people would not feel comfortable speaking very little English in the US. English is often associated with whiteness, and for non-white and non-native English speakers linguistic performance can be affected by the microaggressions of their environment. If they feel like they’re not in a friendly environment, they might feel less comfortable speaking – and not even just speaking in English, but speaking or contributing in general.
Have you been able to study abroad? What was your experience like?
I went to Tokyo over the summer to do the Japanese program, and I also went to London with my History study group. Colgate offers so many study abroad opportunities and it’s amazing. Part of a paper that I gave that semester was a case study on black theater in Britain, about a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest that was staged with a full black cast. It was considered a “white play” and their funding application was blocked a lot of times – the company almost broke apart trying to the produce the play, but it was important to them to push the boundaries of “white theater” and “black theater” and to grapple with the agency of what theater should be. I met with the founder of the theater company to talk about her experience, and I had the opportunity to do intense archival work.
What recommendations would you give to someone at Colgate who wants to learn the language that you study?
Go to the Table of Babel every week and speak the language out loud. Try to see the life in the language you’re studying, and see the words in their context and in real interactions instead of memorizing grammar.
What impact do you see language study having on the rest of your life?
I think empathy is a big impact for me. I want to be able to understand people coming from different places, and understand some of the many different ways to perceive and express. You can’t see the world through just one lens and there are things that can’t be explained through a single point of view. I think your motivation for learning languages is really important and can impact the effectiveness of your learning. My motivation is to get to really know others, because sometimes things don’t come across in translation.