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Shaler Area language students shine at competition

| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
Shaler Area students (from left) Jenna Facer, Thomas Henshaw, Emma Wunderlin, Zoe Babbit, Mai Swendsen and Madeline Turner had strong showings at Slippery Rock University’s World Languages Competition last month.
Shaler Area students (from left) Jenna Facer, Thomas Henshaw, Emma Wunderlin, Zoe Babbit, Mai Swendsen and Madeline Turner had strong showings at Slippery Rock University’s World Languages Competition last month.

Shaler Area High School students earned top awards in Slippery Rock University’s World Languages Competition last month.

Seventeen students studying French, Spanish and Japanese joined nearly 150 from 22 Western Pennsylvania high schools to compete in an hour-long computerized exam that tested language and cultural knowledge.

Slippery Rock’s Department of Modern Languages and Cultures offered three test levels per language. The school awarded trophies to students earning the top three scores per level per language.

The six participating Shaler Area Japanese students all earned awards, coming in the following places: Japanese 1: freshman Mai Swendsen, first place; freshman Emma Wunderlin, second; Japanese 2: sophomore Zoe Babbit, first; sophomore Jenna Facer, second; Japanese 3: junior Thomas Henshaw, second; junior Nathan Hayward, third.

Five Shaler Area French language students competed, with French 1 freshman Madeline Turner earning second place and French 3 junior Gabriella Mizera, placing first.

Shaler Area Japanese teacher Steve Balsomico said the Japanese exams were “extremely difficult.”

“With the grammar questions, they were pretty much appropriate to the students’ level and what they had studied the previous year for the most part,” he said. “But with the culture questions, it was really a mixed bag of different aspects of Japanese culture from home life to folklore to etiquette.”

Zoe Babbit, 15, of Glenshaw, said she took a 40-question multiple-choice exam.

“We had to use critical thinking and context clues for most of them, as they were actually things we had never learned before. It was a lot harder than any of us anticipated.”

Mizera, 16, of Shaler, shared the French 3 exam’s format.

“There were about 60 questions about definitions of words, conjugations, verb tenses, agreement, articles and conjunctions, and common phrases or idioms.”

For the most part, the students didn’t know what the tests would entail.

French teacher Beth Marsiglio tried to emphasize the experience her students would gain from the competition.

“What I told my students is that this is just kind of an opportunity to see what this kind of achievement test is like, to get a feel for it. They were going into it unprepared, so there wasn’t any way that they could lose.”

Madeline Turner, 14, agreed.

“This reinforced that going out of your comfort zone can be great. I had an amazing time, and I’m glad I took advantage of this opportunity.”

When the students weren’t testing, they explored the Slippery Rock campus during a “selfie scavenger hunt,” and participated in activities related to the school’s Spanish, French, Japanese and Arabic majors. They also visited a room with study abroad program information.

Mai Swendsen, 14, of Shaler, enjoyed “the positive atmosphere” of so many other people invested in studying foreign languages.

“I found it to be a lot of fun not just because of the competition, but also because I got to explore different parts of Slippery Rock’s campus. In the end, I think it was simply that I had a really good time with some really good people.”

Marsiglio believes these types of activities offer an invaluable experience.

“I think it’s nice to give the students who do well in foreign languages an opportunity to gain a sense of achievement and to be with peers who also really enjoy languages. You know, I think that’s nice whatever students are interested in,” Marsiglio said.”

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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