It's Never too Late to Study Languages: the Story of Betsy Chesney

By: Daniel Andrews

Betsy ChesneyBetsy Chesney had always shied away from foreign languages. They were not required at her high school, and she was able to capitalize on a foreign language exemption during her undergraduate studies. Her linguistic evasions continued even in graduate school, where she managed to dodge them once again.

But after hosting an exchange student in 1997, her interest in language learning was piqued, and even though she initially struggled, she quickly came to enjoy foreign languages and the advantages and challenges they bring, studying languages such as German, Spanish, and Japanese.

Still, something important was missing: French. While teaching English as a Second Language to adult learners, her French-speaking African students convinced her to explore French, so she enrolled in the French BA program at UTC. Health issues in her immediate family prolonged her studies, but after seven years of hard work, she finished her degree in French in the spring of 2017.

Throughout her studies, Betsy was quite taken with the French department. When reflecting on the department’s strengths, balance was the main thing that came to mind, saying that “The professors walk that fine line of balance between being demanding and having high standards and yet encouraging us.” She also appreciated the balance of courses offered, including reading, writing, speaking, literature, and culture. In addition to balance, the quality of the courses and professors has also left a lasting mark on Betsy, who was impressed with the vastly different life experiences of her French professors. Such quality instructors allowed for truly quality courses. While taking a class on occupied France during World War II, her husband (who is Ivy League educated) remarked, “You would think Betsy is taking this class at an Ivy League university!”

Her success at UTC proves that languages are open to all people, even to those who initially may have wanted nothing to do with them. She wants to emphasize that it’s never too late to begin a life of language learning.

Betsy has this final advice to give: “If you haven't declared a major or are an older student, consider languages. They open doors, lead to many friendships, and enrich life immeasurably."