Love of Language Learning Lies behind Upcoming Symposium

Jessica Chen '20, who can speak Engligh, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Italian, is co-organizing a language symposium titled "The Power of Language" to be held April 6–7 at the Fries Center for Global Studies. At this two-day symposium, participants will discuss language and culture, language and identity, second-language acquisition, language and technology, and other topics. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Jessica Chen ’20 is co-organizing a language symposium titled “The Power of Language,” to be held April 6–7 at the Fries Center for Global Studies. At this two-day symposium, participants will discuss language and culture, language and identity, second-language acquisition, language and technology, and other topics. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Jessica Chen ’20 is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, which is often spoken in her home city of Shenzhen, China. She started learning English before she entered Kindergarten.

She taught herself Korean in high school, speaks a local Chinese dialect common in her mother’s native area and is studying Italian at Wesleyan. She is not yet fluent in the latter, but hopes to be so before she graduates and possibly to pick up some other Romance languages as well.

How does she maintain her skill level in so many languages? In part, she has opportunities on campus and speaks Korean, for example, with Korean students. But she admits that at home she sometimes unthinkingly inserts English words into Chinese sentences, to the bafflement of those listening.

An avid student of nuance among different languages, she is aware that her personality shifts depending on which language she is speaking. English and Chinese are her introspective languages, while Korean tends to elicit her more outgoing side. She says it’s too early to determine her Italian personality.

She is passionate about language learning. “Studying languages helps me to see the world in different ways that go beyond my preconceptions,” she says. “I am able to connect with people in a deeper and more meaningful way when I talk to them in their own language. I get so much more insight into their cultures.”

She wants to share that passion with others and has found an outlet for her enthusiasm as an organizer of a language symposium titled “The Power of Language” to be held April 6–7 at the Fries Center for Global Studies. Her student colleagues in this effort are co-organizers Marni Loffman ’19, Betty Bekele ’19, Molly Schiff ’18, and Samin Panju ’20, with the support of Visiting Assistant Professor of Italian Sole Anatrone and Assistant Director of Language and Intercultural Learning Kia Lor at the Fries Center.

At this two-day symposium, students, professors and community members will explore questions of how language builds boundaries and bridges. Some key topics include:
• Language and Culture
• Language and Identity
• Second-Language Acquisition
• Working and Living in a Foreign Language
• Language and Technology
• Roundtable Discussion
• Open Panel for Creative Work and Performance

The keynote speaker is Lital Levy, associate professor of comparative literature at Princeton University and an expert in literary multilingualism, translation and language politics as well as comparative literature, cultural studies and intellectual history.

Organizers are inviting the Wesleyan students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to attend The Power of Language: A Symposium on Language Learning on April 6–7, 2018, in the Fries Center for Global Studies. The event is free and open to the public.

“By welcoming these different perspectives, this symposium seeks to showcase the many forms that cross-lingual communication can take, while also highlighting the importance of linguistic empathy in our increasingly multicultural and interconnected community,” Lor said.

Information about the symposium is available here, and student organizers reflect on their experiences of language learning in a series of videos posted on the Fries Center Facebook page.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, the Fries Center for Global Studies, and the Office of Equity and Inclusion.