by Alex Levin
At this point in our graduate career, my friends and I are mostly focused on research with our advisers. In particular, for the most part, we are no longer taking classes. As a result, I have noticed that I don’t see them as much as I used to in previous years, when we would all gather to work on problem sets (and when most of us lived in the same graduate dorm). So, I spend a lot more time talking to my friends online than I did before.
Online chat is great in many respects, but I can’t help feeling that I am procrastinating, even if I am not doing it much. However, I have found a way to make online chat both fun and productive: by chatting in a foreign language.
You see, this year, I started learning Spanish; several of my friends had done this in previous years, and it seemed like an excellent idea. After some weeks, once I felt comfortable with the basics, I began to use some Spanish sentences and expressions when I chatted with one of my friends. After the semester was over, we could have a basic conversation completely in Spanish (although I still have to look up various words).
Since my friend knows substantially more of the language than I do, I was able to learn a great deal from him. In particular, in many cases, he used words or grammatical constructs that were not yet introduced in our class. Trying to figure out what he said really helped me learn the language.
And, once we studied something related in class, it was a whole lot easier to remember it.
This additional learning would not have been possible had we not been chatting online. Having a face-to-face conversation in Spanish is somewhat awkward, especially since we both only started learning it in graduate school. Online chat provided a fun and laid-back alternative.