Continuing the Language Journey


This week we were very excited to catch up with Mike Petro (Brown ‘17), who is an alumnus of the SLE Bengali Fall 2013 section at our Brown University campus! Read on to see how Mike has used his SLE experience to continue learning language.


  1. What was your experience with language learning before SLE?

Before taking my first SLE course, I had been learning languages continuously since I was pretty young. When I was little, my parents enrolled me in French course that sparked a passion for language learning. Since then I’ve worked on three European languages seriously and started studying the neural bases of language and dabbled in linguistics. Basically, I’m a huge language nerd.

  1. Why did you sign up for Bengali with SLE?

It was too enticing to pass up! Before coming to college, the only organization that I knew I wanted to plug into was SLE.  I find the experience of learning a language so thrilling that I initially didn’t care which language I was going to try out! Bengali was the only language that fit my schedule. When my schedule changed almost immediately after the course began, I had already been hooked. As a linguist, I knew I would be interested in the structures and sound of the language, but it was the culture that the language opened for me that kept me coming back. Once I had been exposed to the treasures that present themselves through the Bengali language, I knew I had to spend some time learning it.

  1. What surprised you about your experience? What was different than your initial expectations?

I started out only interested in the language itself, and I had thought that the course would focus on that.  I must admit that I was a little disappointed when I learned that the course was more about exposing the participants to a little language and a lot of culture. Language learning is an intense effort, and I knew that if we weren’t going to focus on the language we wouldn’t learn much of it during the course. I did not expect that the cultural exposure in the course would end up lighting a passion to learn the language long after the program ended. I think that is the power of the SLE model. When you get students interested in the people and the places behind a language, they can better see the object of learning that language: to connect with people they could not previously understand.

  1. Is there any moment in your SLE course that has stuck with you?

One of my favorite moments in language learning is that first understandable sentence you say to a native speaker. The Fellow running the Bengali course brought in several native speakers that she knew to give her students both a bit of practice and more exposure to Bengali culture. I remember asking a very simple question about a guest’s musical talents, and without a hitch he responded to me. I only grasped a little of what he said, but he definitely knew what I was saying! That a learner can go from having no knowledge of language to being understood is amazing to me, and even after four new languages, that first sentence always puts a smile on my face.

  1. Did you appreciate the peer-to-peer involvement?

Definitely. If you want to learn a language, you have to use it! My class did everything from short skits to team games, and I am certain that the collaborative aspect of the learning definitely made it easier—and considerably more fun!

  1. Have you had the opportunity to continue with Bengali at all since leaving SLE? If not yet, do you foresee this in the future?

I’ve tried several times with my classmates to continue learning, but our early attempts ran into some serious scheduling issues. I’m committed to learning the language, but I think I’m going to have to wait until I figure out what I’m studying! That’s too bad, because I’m absolutely dying to read some Rabindranath Tagore in all the beauty of his native language!

  1. If you could choose another language to bring to SLE, what would it be and why?

I’d be really interested in seeing a language native to the Americas. These continents are filled with linguistic diversity, but the languages are dying fast. I’d love to see a language like Nahuatl or something from the Quechua group taught in an SLE classroom.

  1. If you had to sum it up your SLE experience in 3 words…

Opening, engaging, a commissioning.


Kirsten Craig

Kirsten Craig

Kirsten is a graduate student in Columbia University's Masters of Global Thought program. A lover of anything friend and everything sweet, she is passionate about the environment and the many ways our communication is intricately linked to its preservation.

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