Learning Foreign Languages on Her Own


Alyssa Stegura, Reporter

When junior Computer Science major Isabel Panganiban was 4 years old, her family taught her Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. She grew up in the United States in a small town with no Asian representation, and she had a gnawing thirst to learn more about her heritage.

“Growing up in a small town where I saw no Asian culture or influence made me curious to consume Asian media and commodities which eventually led to my interest in different languages and cultures,” she said.

Isabel has been applying her zest for learning into a truly motivating passion to become a well-rounded, multicultural individual. Though it does not come easy to her at first, she never loses the determination and motivation to keep trying and practicing until she gets it right.

“I mainly learn and study French, Japanese, and Korean in the hopes of being able to better communicate with the citizens of those countries that I hope to visit. I keep practicing and practicing with the hope to be semi-fluent so I can better communicate with people specifically from France, Korea, and Japan,” she said.

She wants to encourage others that, even though learning new things can be difficult, in the end it is worth the time and effort that you put into learning.

“I want to inspire everyone that you may not be the best at something when you first try but through practice and believing in yourself anything is possible,” she said.

Isabel uses various social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram as well as several other apps to practice learning the various languages. An app which she likes and enjoys using is Duolingo. She prefers to use Duolingo over some of the other apps due to the various incentives this app offers to encourage users to practice daily. Isabel uses these incentives, such as badges, stars, treasure chests, and coins to her advantage as a fun challenge for herself.

The Duolingo app has a streak system, which Isabel uses as her motivation and determination to complete a few lessons every day. She currently has a streak of 90+. The app also has leagues that provide users with the opportunity to compete against one another each week. Isabel takes advantage of these leagues as she said, “I am currently in the Diamond League, which is the highest possible league on the platform.”

Isabel’s desire for learning new languages is driven by when she is in another county, specifically the summer of 2014 when she visited France for the first time. The frustration of the language barrier made her want to study and learn so her next trip could be even more enjoyable.

“I experienced this especially when I traveled to Japan and France. While traveling to France, I had taken four years of it [French classes] in high school and it helped me to better understand the culture,” she said.

Isabel has continued to practice French and has developed a love for the culture and enjoys visiting there. Some particular things she enjoys are the delicacies France has to offer, such as crepes, croque monsieur, and croissants. She loves to visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum as she finds them to be fascinating and beautiful. She is quite captivated each time she sees the many pieces of art displayed in this museum, especially the Mona Lisa as that is one of her favorites. Some of the French phrases she enjoys practicing are “Bon Jour” as it is a way to greet others and,” Pourriez-vocus m’aider”, meaning can you help me?

Studying Japanese has helped her to fully embrace the experience of the wonderful things Japan has to offer. Her favorite place to visit is Tokyo as she is fascinated by the Shinjuku transportation system, the largest and busiest railway station and is also famous on YouTube. Isabel got to experience the wonder of this railway firsthand when she rode on it during her trip there in 2015. She was impressed by how clean and organized everything is in Tokyo especially the subway system. Visiting the various temples taught her a great deal about their customs and traditions of worship, especially the reason these temples are red, as it symbolizes the sun, fire, and the rejection of evil spirits and bad luck. A candy Isabel tried while in Japan was Green Tea Kit Kats, which have become one of her favorite treats.

Isabel’s curiosity for different cultures has come from the influence of her parents and their love of traveling. They have taken her on many international trips over the years, which starting at a very early age. The first place Isabel traveled to the Philippines as an infant in the summer of 2000 to visit family currently still residing there. Since that first trip, Isabel and her parents travel there every year during the summer. Although she does not remember her first visit, she has grown fond of the food the Philippines has to offer, especially Tapa, marinated beef with fried egg and garlic rice. Rice is a huge staple in the Filipino culture.

“Isabel has always been very eager to learn something that is unfamiliar to her. She wants to fully immerse herself in a new culture when we visit another country, “ said Josephine Panganiban, Isabel’s mother.

No one forced Isabel to practice these different languages; she just started learning on her own. It may take her a while to grasp the language and speak it fluently, but she always practices and keeps trying so when she visits that country she can fully immerse herself in every aspect of that culture.

“I think from an early exposure to different cultures has influenced her interest in learning and practicing different languages,” said Josephine.

While Isabel has hopes of being fluent and able to communicate properly with the native people in different countries, she understands she is not perfect and will continue making mistakes, but she uses those mistakes as a learning tool. Isabel learned pronunciation is key with different languages from her mispronunciation of the word “un avocat”. Isabel thought she asked for avocado on her sandwich, while eating at a restaurant in France, but she pronounced the word incorrectly and the waiter gave her a strange look and chuckled, because she was actually asking for a lawyer not an avocado. She was embarrassed at the time but can now laugh about it as she has learned a valuable lesson to always make sure to have the correct pronunciation when speaking another language.

“I always want to be perfect when I try something, but I realize not everything will work out the way I hope and that’s okay as long as I learn and grow from my mistakes,” said Isabel.

Although Isabel has not been able to put her knowledge and studying of these languages yet in those countries, she has been able to read various books and magazines in those languages. She follows several Japanese social media accounts, so she is able to better understand most of what they are saying. She enjoys watching Anime, are Japanese cartoons and her newly acquired knowledge of Japanese has helped her to better understand them.

“The most helpful skill that I’ve been able to acquire so far is the ability to read Japanese characters, specifically Hiragana, Katakana, and some Kanji,” she said.

She values learning and sees the benefit in being able to learn and experience new cultures she may have not known about before. Her most valuable treasure, which is traveling with her family to new countries, has motivated her to do her part and be well educated in order to be as authentic to their cultures as possible.

Isabel loves to be challenged and gain knowledge and understanding about new things that she has not previously known about. She loves the excitement that comes from learning something new. She thrives on new experiences, especially when she visits other countries.

“When she travels, she wants to be able to better appreciate what she sees if she understands the language and culture. Isabel has always had a curiosity to learn about the unknown and she wants to be a well-rounded person and truly appreciate every culture that she encounters,” said Josephine.

Isabel’s motivation and how proactive she is to learn on her own and immerses herself into anything she is interested in has been an inspiration to her mother.

“I find it quite inspiring that she wants to be a multi-cultural person and is always practicing a new skill. I will take away her motivation and be more of a proactive person in things that I find interesting,” said Josephine.

Isabel plans to continue her journey of learning and traveling for the rest of her life. She would like to keep inspiring others to believe that whatever you set your mind to you can do and nothing is impossible. There is always room to grow and find something that makes you want to learn more and more.

Isabel’s advice to everyone is that the earlier you get practicing on a new language the better as it is harder to be fluent when you are a teen.

“Make sure to practice a little every day and engage in culture in some way each day. Never lose your fire for learning,” she said.