ASU dean shows that language learning is for any age

By

Gabriel Sandler

At Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures, students and staff demonstrate every day how useful and accessible language learning can be. Inspired by his own college, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Paul LePore decided to take on a new language of his own.

For his sociology work, LePore looks at a range of different topics related to student advancement and achievement. This includes cross-cultural systems of success, where he identified Finland as an innovative model and took a group of students to study the country.

"We really got to see the ins and outs of what made the Finnish experience exceptional, we were in schools, we met with teachers, we observed classrooms,” LePore said. “We also got to be tourists, checking out a cool part of the world I had never been to.”

Over multiple trips, Finland made a strong enough impression on LePore that he wanted to push the cultural exchange even further. Excited by the global experience, he took steps to make his next Finnish adventure more immersive.

“I started studying Finnish. It’s one thing to be able to appreciate and understand another area of the world, but to truly get to know its people, I think the communication needs to be two ways,” LePore said.

Using School of International Letters and Cultures faculty recommendations, he found digital lessons on Pimsleur to play during his daily commute to campus. He'd go through each listen-and-repeat lesson between 10 and 20 times.

While it's not the first language LePore has studied, he recognizes the uniqueness of taking on Finnish at this stage in his professional career and adult life.

“There’s this idea, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ I’m going to be 50 this year,” LePore said. “Language learning, of all the areas I’ve been exposed to, was probably the hardest … but to be able to really fundamentally shift my own perceptions of myself as a learner, the study of Finnish has provided that.”

“It excites me to learn what’s possible,” LePore added.

This new endeavor has helped LePore design student opportunities with a new lens. He also has confidence that anyone can become a student of language and culture.

“If it’s structured well, the types of global, international experiences, including language instruction, need to be part of a process, not just an add-on,” LaPore said. “Fumbling through the language is part of the fun … it makes me want to try harder.”