Alumni to discuss benefits of language learning

Students at Foreign Language and International Studies Day at the UO

UO language experts, current students and staff will join eight speakers as part of the Alumni Roundtable on Career Benefits of Language Learning on Thursday, March 31.

The event will be at the Gerlinger Ballroom from 4 to 5:30 p.m. It is organized by the UO Language Council in collaboration with the UO Alumni Association and Global Studies Institute.

According to Jeff Magoto, director of the Yamada Language Center and a longtime advocate of language learning at the UO, the event is meant to help dispel many myths associated with language learning — for example, that most students take a language to fulfill a requirement, language learning is hard and classroom learning doesn’t prepare you to work in that language — and move the conversation toward one that better matches the realities of many graduates.

“We've invited a distinguished group of UO alums to help us start a new conversation. They come from many backgrounds. Most were not language majors. Most don’t work in academia,” Magoto said. “But all of them epitomize an essential fact of modern life: They live and work in different places, and language is at the intersection of what they do, who they interact with and how they participate in their communities.”

The roundtable’s keynote speaker will be incoming UO Foundation Board President Jim Shephard, a 1980 romance languages alumnus. He will be joined by seven alumni who found the study of languages critical to their successful careers in business, diplomacy and law.

Among the language-learning advocates at the roundtable is Eric Benjaminson, former U.S. ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé & Príncipe. Originally from Brownsville, he is a UO alumnus, graduating from the Clark Honors College in 1981 with a degree in history.

Benjaminson is currently the executive director of the Gabon-Oregon Center. He is fluent in French, but in the past few months has begun learning a new language, Russian.

“A lot of things have changed over time, but knowing how to speak to others has never been more important in society,” Benjaminson said. “Knowing another language truly helps you to understand the world from a different view — the mental framework of others.”

Other roundtable participants include Don Klotter, a 1986 graduate and German speaker, Principal at Mazama Capital Management; Kayla ‘Chas’ Cassidy, a 2014 graduate, Russian speaker and doctoral candidate at Northwestern University; John Patton, a 1966 graduate in romance languages, Spanish speaker, board chair at Cadence Management Corporation; Sarah Rubin Greene, a 2004 graduate, German speaker and attorney; Michael Vergamini, a 1999 graduate, Spanish speaker and attorney; and Hassan Shiban, a 2010 graduate and Arabic speaker, now at the International Refugee Assistance Project.

At the UO, students have access to academic courses for 23 languages — 16 modern and classical languages and additional instruction for six others. Through the Yamada Language Center, students, faculty and staff can join the Selfstudy Language Program for the study of less commonly taught languages; if three or more students suggest a language, the center finds a qualified tutor and coordinates a study program.

The UO Language Council is a group of more than 60 language instructors, students and allied administrators that support and promote the study of languages on campus. More information is available at