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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Learning another language can open new doors of exploration and opportunity

“For me, it was like a window to be able to get to know more people, and to travel to other countries while still being able to communicate with everyone.”

Señora Maria Cebria on why she sought to learn several languages.
Jonah Levy
“For me, it was like a window to be able to get to know more people, and to travel to other countries while still being able to communicate with everyone.” Señora Maria Cebria on why she sought to learn several languages.

The excitement and exploration of learning new languages continues to captivate the world. Through different journeys, learning a second, or even a third or fourth language, remains an up and down battle of the mind for everyone.

The University of North Carolina at Asheville is no stranger to foreign languages. The languages and literature major continues to hold at least 30 students per year, according to UNCA’s enrollment statistics.

Maria Idoia Cebria teaches Spanish at UNCA. She’s originally from Valencia, Spain, and speaks English, Spanish and Catalan.

“It’s the opportunities learning a second language brings you. When I was learning English I was so excited to be able to talk to people from all over the world,” Cebria said. “For me, it was like a window to be able to get to know more people, and to travel to other countries while still being able to communicate with everyone.”

Cebria started learning English when she was 11 years old. Not being able to speak a complete sentence, she said she felt like she wasn’t a very good English speaker, and she was always in last place in English class. It wasn’t until a friend of hers introduced her to some English speakers, and that made her want to speak the language better.

“At 18 years old, I had been learning English for seven years now, so I ended up going to England. However, I still wasn’t able to understand a sentence,” Cebria said. “After a month of being there, I started being able to talk more. The people I was around when I was there didn’t speak a word of Spanish, so I was forced to talk in English.”

For Idoia, sometimes she struggled, while other times she was able to have fun with her learning.

“That first month in England was really hard, and sometimes I wasn’t having fun. I had headaches, but suddenly I started to be able to connect words and talk,” Cebria said. “I started to have conversations and make friends. That’s when I started to really be able to use the language.”

After going to a language academy in England, she returned to Spain to get her bachelors in English.

“When I finished getting my BA in English, my university had connections to other universities in the United States that were sending students from the University of Valencia to get a masters at schools in the U.S.,” Cebria said. “I ended up going to Georgia to get a masters in Spanish linguistics. The University of Georgia then hired me as an instructor, and I worked there for eight years. Then I went to the University of Florida to teach before finally coming to UNCA.”

Cebria said learning a second language can be very enriching, makes you feel happier and makes you feel more complete as a person.

“It opens and broadens your world because you’ve been closed to one room that is your first language,” Cebria said. “Then suddenly, you’re able to open windows and doors to different ways of life, styles, experiences, cultures and literature, which can be so much fun.”

One thing you feel when first learning a new language is a sense of being tired since you need to make such a big effort in the beginning, according to Cebria.

“You might feel at first that you are learning a lot, but then you might suddenly feel stuck at a certain level and you don’t feel like you’re moving ahead,” Cebria said. “It maybe needs more immersion to really push through that phase.”

Adrien Allen is a senior French major from Krasnoyarsk, Russia. He speaks English, Russian and French fluently.

“My mother is an English language teacher, so she went into raising me with a bilingual ideology,” Allen said. “There was a long period of time when I was really little where I would repeat things in both Russian and English, and that’s how I talked to everybody.”

Allen spent his first three years in Russia while his parents spoke to him in Russian and English in the hopes that both of those languages would improve over time for him. At three years old, his family moved to the United States where he would begin to tackle a new language.

“When I was in preschool in the United States, I went to a French speaking school,” Allen said. “It wasn’t necessarily a language class, it was just that we did our day-to-day activities in French. However, I only started to really study that language in middle school.”

After moving back to Russia for another six years, he returned to the United States, this time near the Canadian border in Vermont. There, he was able to use and practice more of his French language skills.

“There was a point in my French learning where you can tell how old I was when I learned certain things,” Allen said. “For example, everything I’ve learned since middle school is so clunky as compared to everything I’ve learned when I was in preschool sounding much smoother. When I was in France this past year, everyone assumed one of my parents was French.”

Allen said depending on which language he is speaking, he has different personalities.

“I think part of it is I have different friends I speak different languages with,” Allen said. “My personality changes depending on who I’m interacting with and how I’m interacting with them.”

Language learning is important for many different reasons. For example, studying abroad opens up more opportunities and immerses you in the language.

“Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to be immersed in the French language for three semesters,” Allen said. “Also, not every program requires you to know the local language of wherever you’re going, but having a basic understanding of the language opens more opportunities.”

After just spending a year abroad in France, Allen returned to a French language community that is small, but strong.

“Every week we do a conversation table where we meet to speak French and to speak about France and French culture. Less frequently we’ll do activities like food or movie nights,” Allen said.

A senior soccer player and computer science major from Spain, Sergio Baguena has grown up around English his entire life. He speaks English, Spanish and Valencian fluently.

“My family sometimes would speak to me in English just to see if I could understand anything, or to get my ears used to hearing the English language,” Baguena said.

Sergio learned English here and there as he was growing up. After taking English classes in Spain for several years, he was finally able to start speaking more.

“I think around the age of 14, I started being able to have fluid conversations,” Baguena said. “They weren’t perfect, but compared to now, I feel much more comfortable with my English.”

Every summer he had neighbors from the Netherlands that would come to visit Spain. Sergio said he had an opportunity to practice with them whenever they’d come.

“I feel it really gave me a huge step forward with my English,” Baguena said. “Eventually, I stopped being nervous to speak English.”

When Sergio turned 18, he shifted his eyes to the United States. After signing up with an agency, he was eventually recruited to play soccer at Bethel University in Tennessee.

“Luckily when I started at Bethel University back in 2021, there were a few Spanish speakers that talked to me a lot, so I felt a lot more comfortable when I got there,” Baguena said.

Sergio said the first two weeks when he arrived in the United States were the most stressful, but it helped him knowing that there were at least a few people that spoke his native language.

“I remember when I first got there that I had to switch my mind completely into an English mode because I was so used to speaking in Spanish,” Baguena said. “Sometimes I would even answer people in Spanish by accident to people who didn’t speak Spanish.”

After three years in Tennessee, Sergio decided to come to UNCA to play soccer.

“When I first committed to playing soccer at UNCA, there weren’t any Spanish speakers on the team. Now, there’s three,” Baguena said. “I think it helps you whenever you have a stressful time to talk to someone in your native language.”

Serigo said knowing English gives you more opportunities to connect with more people from his soccer team to the classroom.

“English can open new paths and opportunities for you, and almost completely opens your world up,” Baguena said.

At UNCA, there are multiple events every year that include learning about different languages and cultures from around the world.

“We have festivals going on sometimes like ‘Languages In Action,’” Cebria said. “Students from different countries get together to learn about different cultures and languages through reading, music and food.”

There are also conversation tables where students can come together to practice or speak about Spanish, German and French.

“Every week we do a conversation table where we meet to speak French and to speak about France and French culture,” Allen said. “Less frequently we’ll do activities like food or movie nights.”

UNCA offers study abroad programs which can give you multiple opportunities to learn different languages and cultures.

“I think it’s crucial for people to learn different languages,” Allen said. “We are in a place in the world where we have so much more access to other places than we’ve ever had.”

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