Your Grade Isn’t Always a Product of Your Work

During finals week at colleges across the country, libraries are filled with students, empty classrooms are occupied after class hours, and (what seems like) the zombie apocalypse is beginning. The number of breakdowns and stressed-out, tired students that I had seen this semester was astonishing, and quite disheartening. Why do people let themselves get to this point in the first place?

I love learning. If I could be a permanent student without debt, I would be, or so I thought. This past year, the joy I got out of learning about new topics was overcome by the obsession to feel accomplished based on my grades. Many seniors I talked to this year, as well as myself, were upset that we were spending our last year of college worrying about our grades, instead of spending time with our friends and making memories before graduating.

After realizing that there is a such thing as over-studying, I realized that resting was very important. There has to be a balance. I formed a certain attitude when it came to studying for tests: If I studied as much as I could without overdoing it, and I didn’t do well, then I genuinely tried my best and could feel okay about it, even if I was disappointed at first. If I didn’t put any effort into studying for an exam and didn’t do well, then I had no one to blame but myself.

The truth is, you can put all of the effort you physically, mentally, and emotionally can possibly put into an assignment, and sometimes it just won’t pay off. Sometimes you get a teacher that doesn’t agree with you or doesn’t appreciate the way you write a paper, but the kid that wrote the paper half an hour before class got a better grade. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good student. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to work harder. It means that you didn’t live up to that professor’s standards, whatever they may be, and that isn’t always a bad thing. Maybe your grade doesn’t reflect all the work that you put into the assignment, but you did your best, and that is what matters.

Use Simple Language

Many years ago, I was talking to somebody that I had just met, and they asked me if I was from Scranton. This was the first time I was asked a question so specific to where I lived that I was caught off guard. I told the woman that I was from the area and asked how she knew. You have an accent, she told me.

What? I thought I spoke standard English just like anyone else in the area! There wasn’t anything in my speech that made me think that I sounded like I was from a specific area. When people think of American accents, they usually refer to the South, New York, or New England. Who knew that even in the little region where you grew up, your accent could be seen as different? There is much diversity within American English, but that doesn’t just apply to how we sound when we speak.

I have interacted with a variety of language exchange partners from many different places. Not all language exchanges give you the same experience, and not all language exchanges will go smoothly. However, if you are looking to make the experience less stressful for both parties, I would suggest using simple language.

I naturally don’t use complicated language and I don’t see why it needs to be used in everyday situations, like some people use it. If I can get my point across concisely without having to repeat myself or clarify what I was saying, then I can continue to say even more things. I have found this to be very helpful as a language exchange partner, because most of the time, my partners will understand what I am saying, even if they don’t consider themselves “fluent” in English. Being able to understand the conversation will make them more motivated to continue speaking to you and you will be able to have more fluid conversations.

I have been told that I enunciate in English. That can contribute to a better and easier language exchange, but I would highly suggest trying to use language that is simpler and more natural, rather than what you are reading in your textbook. However, I would not use language that is so simple that it is insulting. So try it out! See what happens when you speak to somebody using most of the vocabulary that they’ll probably know!

Language Event Planning

Have you ever held yourself back from a great opportunity because of fear? Have you ever thought about how your life would be different if you had taken that leap of faith? Do your dreams tend to stay inside your head?

I have wanted to try out every career at some point in my life, ranging from singing to being a chemist to being an archaeologist. Coming into college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my future. I knew that Spanish would be one of my majors, but I was unsure of what I would combine it with. Business had crossed my mind, but after taking a look at the list of classes that were required, I shied away from it. The same thing happened my freshman year with Computer Science. I had taken a class that I really enjoyed and did well in. It made me consider majoring in the subject, but when I took a look at the list of required courses and saw that a lot of math was involved, I became intimidated and backed down. Life today could have been different if I had taken a step forward in faith.

What happens when you do take that step? 

Since my four years in college, I have studied abroad in two different countries, traveled around Europe, learned how to speak three romance languages, and most recently, I planned a language-learning event at my school.

I work at the Language Resource Center and wanted to do something to get our name out there, as well as engage the campus in language-learning and community-building outside of the classroom. That was when I came up with the idea of Mini Language Workshops, by students, for students. Each week, students at the college had the opportunity to learn the basics in a different language for an hour. The workshops were ran by 11 different students who either spoke that language natively or were advanced speakers of the language. Below, you can see the product of the language workshops:

For English subtitles, click the “CC” button.

You too can help plan events to help make your school a more multilingual place. Just take that leap of faith and start a meetup group or your own language workshops. Who knows, maybe you will start a new tradition!

Direct Objects in Spanish

Hello everyone! If you have been keeping up with my YouTube channel, you would have seen that I’ve been making more videos about the Spanish language. This video series stems from questions that I get frequently asked by students that I have tutored. Direct and indirect objects can be tricky in Spanish, considering they are formed differently than they are in English. For those of you who aren’t familiar with grammatical concepts, you may not know what a direct and indirect object are.

direct object can roughly be translated to “it” in an English sentence, making the sentence shorter.

Ex. I bought it.

The direct object is the thing that you bought. What was it? Was it a ball? A dog? A plane ticket?

In Spanish, nouns have gender. Therefore, for the equivalent to “it” in Spanish, you will have four options: lo, la, los, las. Depending on what your object is, you will choose the direct object that agrees with the gender and number. For example, “flowers” in Spanish is “las flores.” Since the noun is plural and has a feminine article, you will use las as your direct object.

Direct objects are typically placed before a conjugated verb or after an infinitive. However, there are instances where it gets or can get placed after a conjugated verb (if it is in the -ing form or if it’s a command).

Ex. Los quiero. I want them.

Quiero comprarla. I want to buy it.

Tómalo. Take it.

That’s pretty much it! There is a little more I can say on where to put them, as well as using me and te as direct objects, but what you see here are the basics. Once you get the pattern down of which direct object to use and where to put it, you will be able to easily form shorter sentences!

All Seasons Come to an End

A few weeks ago, I went home for what schools typically call “spring break”.  Spring is when my campus is filled with blossoming trees, the smell of fresh mulch that makes me hold my breath, and the comforting warmth wrapping around my body, accompanied by a bright sunlight that I haven’t seen in months. Spring has always been a different experience in my hometown since I live in the north. You have to learn to enjoy every moment of it, because it is fleeting. We get a couple of days a year where the flowers on trees are blooming, but it is a beauty that does not last. This year, I spent my spring break indoors when I wasn’t shoveling the piles of snow that were up to my waist from the Stella blizzard.

It was March. We had a cold winter, but not a bad one in terms of weather. Usually my spirits start to get lifted in March because I know that spring is coming. However, it was already halfway through the month and we had just gotten a huge snowstorm that we spent the entire week shoveling ourselves out of. I knew that spring was still on its way, but I was a lot less optimistic about how quickly it would arrive. At this point, I couldn’t imagine it ever arriving.

Just like the weather goes through different seasons, we go through different seasons in our life. Sometimes we have a period of happiness, enthusiasm, hope. Other times, we find ourselves stressed out and overwhelmed, wondering when the next positive season will be coming. Recently I have been going through a lot with some personal issues that have come up, which is why I have not written a blog post in over a month. When I started this blog, I had planned to write a post every week, and I kept up with it even during my busiest times. However, I reached a point where I just couldn’t keep up. I was juggling too many things at once and it was not good for me.

Last week, the weather started getting better. The sun came out and I could finally walk around outside without wearing a winter jacket. To this very minute I still find it hard to believe that it is no longer winter. You will reach this point in your life. If you are going through a hard time, don’t be discouraged! Just as all good things come to an end, so do all bad things.

Studying abroad is a season, high school is a season, what struggles you are going through are just a season in your life. Make the most of the good seasons. Slow down and take everything in. Learn from the bad seasons and know that better things are on their way. You may not be able to see your spring quite yet, but it’s coming.

Fluency: Do You Need to Go Abroad?

Interpreting the meaning of the word fluent is like trying to interpret art. Everyone has their own definition of what they think being fluent in a language is. You may look at a painting and think one thing, but the person next to you may see something else. The same thing goes for people’s expectations of your “fluency” in a language. When people ask me if I’m fluent in a language, I usually ask them what their definition is first. Two responses I have gotten are: “If you don’t make any mistakes and speak like a native” and “If you can say whatever you want to without having to think much”.

Unfortunately, a lot of people fall under the first category. In my experience, those are the people who usually say that a person isn’t fluent in a language until they go abroad; that going abroad will automatically make them fluent. Sometimes, going abroad isn’t even enough. I still encounter people who say that I am almost fluent in a language, whatever that means! Although I usually answer people based on their definition of fluency, there are two ways I determine if I am fluent in a language: 1. I ask a trusted native speaker that I know will not say that I’m fluent just to be nice. 2. My goal is to be conversational (talking about a wide range of topics that I’d normally talk about), so if I can talk about subjects that come up in daily life that aren’t super complicated or that I’m not interested in (ex. politics), I am happy with where I am. This means that you don’t have to speak perfectly nor do you need to sound like a native, although you should work on your accent as much as possible.

Not everyone shares my definition of fluency or goal in learning a foreign language, but for those who do, there are people out there who have become fluent in a foreign language without studying in the country where that language is spoken.

Benny Lewis is known as the Irish polyglot. He is the mastermind behind the website Fluent in 3 Months, which I have been following for years. He claims to be able to speak a language fluently after studying it for three months. While there is a lot of controversy that I have seen because of this, he can still seem to hold a conversation with someone after just a short amount of time. He has been an inspiration to many and has shown that you can study a language outside of the country where it is spoken and become fluent.

Grace, known as Ryuzaki1311 on YouTube, does not claim to be fluent in Japanese. However, she has gained a lot of attention for her high level in Japanese at a young age, which she attained by self-study. Now she is studying abroad in Japan, but you can see from her videos that she spoke well before leaving England.

Moses McCormick, also known as laoshu505000, is a well-known polyglot, who has learned languages as difficult as Polish in three months! People have taken notice to this and have even interviewed him about it. A lot of his videos are of him “leveling up” or practicing languages that he is learning or can speak with native speakers that he encounters when he goes out. Many, if not all, of these videos have taken place in the United States.

With today’s technology and language exchange websites, it is possible to become conversationally fluent in a language without leaving your home country. Before going abroad, I felt confident in my Spanish and French language skills, which actually worked in my favor. Going abroad will not automatically make you fluent in a language, especially if you are in a program where everyone shares your native language. Becoming fluent takes a lot of work and discipline, whether you immerse yourself at home or in the country where the language is spoken.

What is your definition of fluency in a language? Have you been able to attain that goal without studying abroad?

Balancing School and Travel

Every college student is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s the side that likes to binge-watch Netflix or funny videos on YouTube. They seem carefree and you almost wonder how they pass class, because you never see them doing their work. That’s when you see the other side: the student that stays up from anywhere between 2-4 in the morning, scrambling to finish their assignment, paper, etc. This is a stressful way to live, and pretty unhealthy if you aren’t getting enough sleep or eating the right things. With this lifestyle, it makes it a lot harder to travel.

This past weekend, I traveled to a city two hours away to give a talk at a conference. I had almost no time to do any work because I had been going to sessions almost every half hour. However, I knew that I wouldn’t want to do my work the day I got back from the trip, because I would be tired from traveling and hearing more talks. To spare myself lots of stress, I planned ahead and did what assignments I could during the previous week. This technique has always helped me when traveling.

When I was in Madrid, I traveled literally every weekend. I would leave on Thursday and get back Sunday. Sometimes I would just do a day trip, but I was still traveling. I would always get my homework done before leaving. Some of my classmates would bring their homework with them on trips, but I know that I would never be able to get it done on a trip, nor would I enjoy my trip if I spent it doing homework. If you are busy during the week, I would suggest doing the little, easier, quicker assignments first. Whenever you are already in homework mode, doing your other homework, get a little bit ahead by doing an assignment that is due when you come back from your trip. If you keep doing a little bit at a time, you may be surprised at how much you get done. If you decide to do all of your homework at once, that can be draining but then you won’t have to worry about any homework.

What kind of student are you? Do you ever work ahead? Share your homework tips below!