Most high school students have many dreams and aspirations, even if they do not know their intended major. Some students, especially those at schools where learning a foreign language is required, aspire to become bilingual or study foreign language in college. This can be a frustratingly difficult learning process that turns people away from this area of study. It is also no secret that the United States is a largely monolingual country. So, what keeps Americans on track during their grueling foreign language studies? Even those who have never studied a second language can find inspiration from Maisie DeMass, an Andrean alumna who studied Spanish at Andrean and currently lives and teaches in Spain.
Even though DeMass never thought she would become eloquent in Spanish, she knew as an Andrean student that she wanted to become well-versed in more than one language. Her original major at Butler University was actually an international studies degree, but she switched majors and graduated with a degree and honors in Spanish just two years later. “I think the Spanish classes at Andrean did a good job preparing me for college classes, as I was able to test out of a few, which put me ahead and probably helped me to finish my Spanish major in just two years,” said DeMass.
While she was at Butler, DeMass had the opportunity to study abroad at the Universidad de Alcalá in Spain. There, she learned about the university’s master’s program and was accepted into it during the second semester of her senior year of college. She lived in Spain for a year while participating in this program and is still living there.
Even though adjusting to life in Spain was made easier by her college experiences, DeMass found the move a bit daunting at first. Even now when she visits family in the United States and travels back to Spain, the change is not always easy. “Adjusting between the U.S. and Spain takes a few days,” said DeMass. “The lifestyles are quite different.”
These different lifestyles are truly exhibited in the Spanish classrooms where DeMass teaches. A major difference between her classes and the typical American class is that their second language, English, is spoken and taught across multiple other subjects for half of the day. So Spanish children in DeMass’s school learn science, art, and other subjects in a foreign language.
“I love teaching in general, but I think that my experience is really quite unique,” said DeMass. While student teaching, she gained experience in Indianapolis by teaching English to a group of people who altogether spoke eight different languages. So while DeMass does enjoy living in Spain, she also works with many different languages and cultures.
One would think that a person who has lived and taught in a Spanish speaking country for over a year would automatically be fluent in Spanish. This is not always the case. While DeMass is extremely proficient at speaking Spanish, she does not consider herself to be fluent in the language. “I’m not sure I’ll ever really consider myself fluent,” said DeMass. “I’m learning new things each day… [There are] always new contexts in which I have to put my abilities to the test.”
As she continues to learn about the Spanish language and culture, DeMass finds that patience is one of the key elements needed to keep growing linguistically. Even though she acknowledges that other characteristics are needed as well, DeMass said, “I think it’s important to remember to be patient with yourself and others when learning a new language.”
Maisie DeMass is not the only member of her family who loves studying new languages and cultures; her siblings have all studied foreign languages. Mrs. Margi DeMass, Maisie’s mother and an Andrean math teacher, studied Spanish in high school and learned Japanese while living in Japan for a couple of years.
With so much cultural interest in one family, it came as no surprise to Mrs. DeMass when her daughter decided to major in Spanish. “She’s always been interested in the foreign entity, and things outside the United States have always fascinated her,” said Mrs. DeMass. “It doesn’t surprise me that language is more her world.”
The only time that Mrs. DeMass has actually been to Spain was during Andrean’s annual spring break trip last year. During their vacation, DeMass travelled with students to Madrid, Paris, and Rome. While she was on this trip, she had the chance to experience a part of Maisie’s world. “We had churros and chocolate, that was a highlight,” said Mrs. DeMass. “[Madrid also had] a really pretty downtown area.”
While she was in Madrid, Mrs. DeMass also spent time with her daughter. The two usually only get to see each other once a year during Christmas. DeMass is still glad that she was able to immerse herself in the culture that her daughter has been living in. “That’s one of [Maisie’s] favorite parts, it’s not necessarily just the language, but… she’s learned so much about their culture,” said DeMass.
Learning about a new language and a new culture is an enriching experience in and of itself. That is why Andrean requires students to study foreign languages; the experience can open the door to a myriad of opportunities either in college or further down the road. Even if one does not pursue a career where being bilingual is necessary, it is an advantageous skill that all people can use in life.
Language enthusiasts and linguistic amateurs everywhere should not be discouraged by the haunting difficulties of foreign grammar or vocabulary. Just look at Maisie DeMass. If someone so close to home can overcome these challenges and pursue her own ambitions to learn an entirely new language, anyone has the ability to utilize his or her own skills and work hard to open up a whole new realm of possibilities and communication.