This month, Durbin got a chance to meet the recipient of his scholarship, William-Isaac Beckes.
Beckes is currently a biochemistry major. When he first explored study abroad possibilities, he looked at Valencia, but he had already taken the STEM courses toward his major that USAC offered there.
So he decided to change course — and very likely his major, too — by choosing instead to spend a year studying Spanish in an all-Spanish curriculum at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid. He hopes not to speak English at all this year.
Beckes is fascinated with languages and spends six hours a day studying them. Besides English and Spanish (his most recent language), he speaks French and German. He is also working on Chinese because he has four Chinese sisters.
“Languages are so fascinating to me, maybe because I grew up in the Midwest and it’s not a very diverse place, so languages are more like a delicacy,” he said.
He was always intrigued when he heard another language spoken on the street. He has a personal goal to speak all of the official United Nations languages (Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese) before he’s 35.
After his year abroad, Beckes expects to major in computational linguistics. This summer he sought out a linguistics mentor in Kara Moranski, visiting assistant professor in UC's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He worked with her on a research study on metacognitive instruction for language learners, to analyze whether learners who recognize and actively self-correct their language errors have an advantage in language development. Beckes’ own focus was on whether grammatical errors caused communication breakdowns. His research provided evidence that beginner-level learners relied more on vocabulary than grammar to make themselves understood.
Beckes teaches online as a community tutor for students who want to connect with a native speaker of English. Ultimately, he would like to open his own language school and work on the reform of language teaching in the United States.