Flying high thanks to language study

Since graduating with degrees in French Language and African Languages and Literature, Kate Thornborough’s career has taken off.

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What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison in 2013? 

After graduating, I worked briefly as a substitute teacher before abandoning the 9-5 workforce for a job as a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline. I have flown all over the world, both for work and pleasure, and get to meet and work with new people who are as passionate about travel and culture as I am. The job has suited me very well, as I get considerable time off to travel the world, and at a significantly reduced cost, no less. I also have an extremely flexible schedule that gives me lots of freedom to substitute teach part-time, as well as volunteer in my community.

What motivated you to study French and Arabic? 

I was passionate about French since middle school, where I had a series of wonderful teachers that encouraged me to open my eyes to the world around me. When I got to UW-Madison, I continued to have great professors who were always supportive of my ventures. 

For Arabic, I was always curious about it, as my family is half Egyptian. The culture was there, but growing up, the Arabic language was a missing link. Studying it in college enabled me to connect with my grandparents and family in ways that I couldn’t before. The dual complexity and simplicity of Arabic intrigued me, and the variety of cultures and traditions practiced across the Middle East and Southeast Asia kept me coming back for more.

How have these languages enriched your life? 

I use French and Arabic on a day-to-day basis on my flights as an interpreter. It feels good to be able to help a family get their vacation started on the right foot — or end on the right note — by being able to answer their questions and talk with them.

Additionally, when I travel, both languages come in handy with being able to find my way around many countries, even some I didn’t expect. Arabic helped me make friends in the Netherlands, and French helped me make friends in Albania.

After learning two languages, I can learn new languages more easily and quickly, as I already know how my brain likes to memorize new vocabulary and grammar rules. My Spanish is vastly improving, and my Russian is coming along nicely as well.

The culture was there, but growing up, the Arabic language was a missing link. Studying it in college enabled me to connect with my grandparents and family in ways that I couldn’t before. 

What do you remember about your UW language classes?

My UW language classes were much smaller than most of my other courses, and they were intense and discussion-based, which I loved. Being able to talk to someone and being forced to rack your brain for how to say something is the best way to learn a language, in my opinion. It makes you seek out new vocabulary, and you learn so much from the person you'e talking with — it’s a win-win.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences? 

For my first year, I lived in the Arabic dorms with the International Learning Community, and that was so helpful with my beginning Arabic classes. Speaking Arabic all the time and learning new vocabulary words for things we hadn’t covered in class (like “desk” or “I am waiting for my pizza delivery”) created a solid base for the rest of my years in Arabic at UW.

I also studied abroad for a semester at Université Aix-Marseille in Aix-en-Provence, studying French and Arabic. I also spent a summer doing an intensive language program at Tours. Both programs improved my French exponentially, and learning Arabic at a French university was informative and fascinating with the different techniques used.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know? 

Voyager, meaning “to travel”!

Story courtesy of Languages at UW-Madison.