F&M Stories

Language's Power in Students' Lives

Telling stories via video about a time when language was important in their lives gave a group of Franklin & Marshall first-year students some unexpected personal insights.

"Being able to talk about my personal experience was fun, and seeing how everyone reacted to my video, and how much inspiration they got ... helped me realize how powerful being bilingual can be, especially when I use it to help others," Hector Melesio Rodriguez said.

The assignment, directed by Associate Professor of Spanish and Linguistics Jessica Cox, was part of the students' prerequisite Connections course, Language in the 21st Century.

"One thing that I thought was neat was how they talked about language being very powerful in very different contexts," Cox said. "They are not professional videos, of course, but well done in terms of telling cohesive and impactful stories on a variety of different topics: learning about dialect differences, multilingual students interpreting for their parents, learning to use language as an effective tool for debate, learning other information or material, and more."

Rodriguez talked about translating for his non-English-speaking parents. His video is one of three featured for this story.

"When I discuss language, I think of my history and how I have been able to live this bilingual lifestyle my entire life and how staying bilingual has helped me and helped others," he said.

Rodriguez's perspective changed after he heard his fellow students' reactions to his video.

"It's an awkward thing to say, 'Oh, my parents don't speak English,'" Rodriguez said. "I feel like sometimes I'm the only one, but creating this video, doing this assignment, helped me realize how many other students are going through this as well."


Initially, Hannah Steinhauer was anxious about creating a video.

"I've done plays and other scripted public speaking events, so at first, I didn't understand my nervousness," Steinhauer recalled. "When I really thought about why I was struggling, it seemed to culminate into some sort of cohesive story."

She chose to center the story around her sister who, she said, has been "such a dominating force" in her life.

"She's someone I look up to and has really pushed me to be the person I am today," Steinhauer said. "Our relationship is complicated and unique; I wanted to express the positive change that she's inspired while still recognizing some of the sisterly trauma she put me through."

For Steinhauer, making an unscripted video of herself, while somewhat stressful, was a positive experience, "good practice in creating and delivering an informal speech."

"Comments from my peers provided helpful insight on what my strengths are and what I can improve for the future," she said. "Looking at other people's videos, I got to know my classmates a little better and see the way different people structured their stories to fit the prompt."


Before starting college, Aviva Katz lived abroad to study another language.

"Having just come back from almost two years living in Israel — as an English-speaker in a Hebrew-speaking country — this story was the one I needed to tell," she said.

Katz recalled an initial sense of panic when she first read the assignment, and then realized that she had a story to tell.

"It's a story that's about much more than being a foreigner in a country that speaks a different language, for Hebrew is a language I've been hearing, reading, and speaking since I was a little girl," Katz said. "Yet somehow, it was still foreign to me. This is a story of how a language can be so close to your heart, and so familiar, yet still foreign and uncomfortable."

As it was for other students, the assignment compelled Katz to describe her experience in words that "draw a message." It helped that her classmates all shared similar experiences about the challenges trying to master a language.

"As I watched other peoples' videos, I connected to them, and found more stories about language in my own life that I hadn't even thought about," Katz said. "It helped with my feeling of shame or embarrassment to see I wasn't alone in this struggle. But most of all, filming the video helped me value this experience."


“One thing that I thought was neat was how they talked about language being very powerful in very different contexts.”

— Professor of Spanish and Linguistics Jessica Cox

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