Intensive Language Courses Help Students Build Cultural Understanding and Learn Skills Quickly

October 7, 2015
Leilani Stacy ’18, Silvia Pera ’18 and Kristina Stark ’17, and others, dressed in medieval style clothing in Portgual

Learning a language can really take you places; just ask Leilani Stacy ’18. "When I took up Portuguese last year on a whim at Wellesley, I never imagined that as a result...I would have the chance to shake hands with the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs," Stacy said.

Stacy and Silvia Pera ’18 both took Intensive Portuguese as first year students at Wellesley, and over the summer, had the opportunity to practice their language skills through internships in Lisbon, Portugal, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—Stacy in the Press Office, Pera in the EU department.

Stacy said one of her most memorable experiences was watching a press conference between the Portuguese and Turkish foreign ministers. "I had the chance to see international relations in action, and also meet several reporters and other workers in the ministry while communicating in Portuguese," she said. (Stacy kept a blog during her time in Portugal, if you’d like to read more about her travels).

"Just having studied Portuguese for a year, I was able to communicate enough to order food, ask for or give directions...and have short conversations with locals, which was both useful and rewarding," Stacy said. "In turn, Portuguese people were always so excited that students were learning their language, and went out of their way to show us Portuguese culture... These experiences enhanced my language skills and cultural understanding through real-world interactions that truly made me appreciate my classroom knowledge from Wellesley."

Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world. As a language offering, it is the College’s newest with classes first offered in 2013. The program started with two intensive classes, Portuguese 103 and Portuguese 203, and added a new course, Portuguese 241: Introduction to Lusophone Studies, this fall. Classes are instructed by Antonio M.A. Igrejas, Mellon Foundation Lecturer in Portuguese.

Mackenzie Hempe '16, who is currently taking Portuguese 103, said she was inspired to enroll in the course following an internship in Cape Verde sponsored by the Center for Work and Service. “I learned Kriolu, the more commonly used language, verbally and orally. But for writing and reading, Cape Verdeans use Portuguese,” Hempe said. “I picked up some throughout the summer with my basic knowledge of Spanish and decided to take 103 to solidify my knowledge of the Portuguese language.”

She said, “As a senior that has already taken Spanish and Swahili [at Wellesley], I had no need for language credits...but I really just wanted to take course for myself and my own education,” adding that she’s already read one of the Harry Potter books in Portuguese and is hoping to be able to better converse, read, and write by the time she graduates. She also hopes to possibly use the language in her future career.

Portuguese is one of 15 languages offered at Wellesley—the others are Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili. Wellesley offers more languages than almost all other liberal arts college of a similar size.