Samantha Railsback is a recipient of the Summer 2021 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship. The award provides undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students with financial support to develop fluency in less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) and expertise in the regions in which these languages are spoken. Click here to learn more.
“Do not speak English IN Chinese” was the first thing I learned in my Mandarin studies. Originally, I thought my professor was referring to the common structural errors English speakers are often prone to. However, as I progressed in my language studies, I came to understand her words held a dual meaning, becoming aware of how in academia we are often taught to emulate the language of academics, conforming us to a hegemonic way of thinking and communicating, which removes the context and experiences from many students’ communication preferences. I began to notice students in the United States had increasing difficulty being active listeners, a problem that hinders inclusive and empathetic thinking while promoting the tendency to allow the brain to fill in what we assume ‘should’ come next.
As an undergraduate, political science student with a particular interest in international relations, U.S- China relations and U.S foreign policy, I became inspired to consider how this training impacts diplomatic efforts and relations, as well as the role language plays in shaping patterns of political behavior and matters of national security.
With the help of the FLAS fellowship I intend to continue my language learning and to seek employment with the federal government, where I hope to impart how essential language skills are for critical thinking, diplomacy, and solving global issues.