John F. Schwaller grew up in a small Kansas town that had been primarily settled by German immigrants. Because of this, the town is almost fully bilingual with even third generation American citizens being fluent in both German and English.
Schwaller says that his family was of German descent, but they did not speak the language. However, Schwaller grew up hearing heavily accented German language everywhere, and his father, who ran the local hardware store, could perform serviceable German translation when it was needed.
Learning Different Languages is Fascinating
Schwaller remarked that even though he didn’t grow up speaking German, he finds the language fascinating. In fact, he finds all languages fascinating, and later as a young man, he picked up Spanish much more easily than German and went on to major in Spanish in college. Being able to be a professional translator for difficult languages like Nahuatal, an Ancient Aztec dialect, has helped Schwaller gain insight into different cultures as well as different languages.
His unique upbringing in Hays, Kansas has cultivated a respect in Schwaller for all different sorts of languages and their cultures. Though he was expected to pick up German as a boy because over half of his town spoke the language fluently, he surprised them and his own family by learning Spanish instead. Sometimes the language just picks the person.
Schwaller and his wife have raised their first son to be bilingual since infancy, and to this day, he remains fluent in both English and Spanish. His Spanish translation skills have helped him immensely in his life and his career. Schwaller says that it wasn’t uncommon for people to think that being bilingual would cause a child to never quite become fluent in either language.
It was also thought that a child would confuse the two languages and never learn how to use either properly, resulting in a decreased knowledge of both languages. This idea has since been proven wrong as children are remarkably able to keep track of two languages and use them both with dexterity and skill if they are taught well.
Language Programs at State University Offer Study Abroad
Schwaller is the president of the State University of New York in Potsdam; he is also a professor of history at the university. The university knows the clear advantages of studying different languages and offers the students options to study language abroad or by becoming involved in immersion classes.
Languages like Arabic and Mohawk are offered to the students as well as traditional language study programs in French and Spanish. Each year, the university has over 450 international education programs available to students with a scholarship specifically for students who wish to study abroad. Business translation services are becoming a more popular career choice for students since foreign business is also becoming more common in America. Recently, this trend towards translation careers has also been popular in other countries, Australia being one.