Musing, Music and Mime: Baylor students use creative means to win national language contest

  • News Photo 4987
    Daniella Romero, a senior majoring in international studies at Baylor, involved her younger sister in her video that was among the six winners - two from Baylor - in the nationwide Language Learning for Life Video Contest, sponsored for college students by Boston-based Vista Higher Learning Inc.
  • News Photo 4988
    The video vignette produced by Baylor University junior Adrien Lavergne wowed judges in a national contest sponsored by a company that publishes instructional language materials.
  • News Photo 4986
    Daniella Romero, a senior majoring in international studies at Baylor, was one of six winners - two from Baylor - in the nationwide Language Learning for Life Video Contest, sponsored for college students by Boston-based Vista Higher Learning Inc.
Dec. 1, 2010

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A vignette about a youthful crush, translated into French in a video by Baylor University junior Adrien Lavergne, wowed judges in a national contest sponsored by a company that publishes instructional language materials.

Meanwhile, Daniella Romero, a senior major in international studies at Baylor, competed by dressing her little sister in mime makeup and white gloves and filming her making gestures with differing meanings in other cultures -- among them waving, nodding and making a circle with thumb and index finger.

The novel ways Lavergne and Romero chose to convey how mastering languages benefits community gave them the edge in the nationwide Language Learning for Life Video Contest, sponsored for college students by Boston-based Vista Higher Learning Inc. Lavergne and Romero were among six winners chosen from more than 200 contestants.

Adding to their challenge was the rule that videos could be no longer than 60 seconds. But the Baylor students decided to tackle the task when they learned about it from Dr. Pat Pierce, a senior lecturer at Baylor, who encouraged those in her advanced French grammar class to enter.

Pierce praised the students' creativity and initiative in the contest. This is its second year.

"They had to do everything on their own," she said.

Lavergne, a film and digital media major from Houston with minors in French and music, leaned on his knowledge in those areas. His video begins with the exterior of Moody Memorial Library before focusing on a young man -- Lavergne, filmed by a friend -- seated inside the library and struggling to write about a boy who is enamored with a girl but too shy to give her flowers.

"Huh," Lavergne muses in the video. "How do I say that in French?" Stroking his beard, crossing out words and trying out French synonyms, he winds up with an ear-pleasing, imaginative translation.

"That's literally how I do it when I'm actually translating," said Lavergne, who speaks French to his French grandmother and Cajun grandfather. "There are so many times I try to think of a word and come up with a French word that sounds better."

He did his voice-overs in his dorm room, adding music he composed on his computer by using programs of recorded notes.

"I write really slowly, so to fit it into 60 seconds, I speeded the video up a little less than twice as fast," he said. "I had the linguistics and grammar thing down, but then I added the part about how the more you understand, the better you can communicate in your community."

Romero, who is from Spring, Texas, and was a winner in the 2009 contest, said her idea was sparked by Semester at Sea through the University of Virginia. The Mediterranean voyage promotes intercultural communication.

"Before we got to every port, they told us about the culture and about certain gestures we couldn't make because they had different meanings or were offensive," said Romero, who speaks French, Spanish and English. She attended a French school in Mexico until she moved to the United States at age 14.

Many gestures that are second nature in meaning to most people in the United States -- such as a nod for yes -- might cause confusion or consternation in another country, she said. In Bulgaria, a nod and palms spread outward means "No," while in Saudi Arabia, shaking the head side to side means "Yes."

Visitors to France, meanwhile, would be wise not to mimic someone playing a flute. Check out why by viewing Romero's video with voice-over at http://vistahigherlearning.com/2010highereducationcontest

The link also includes videos by Lavergne and four other winners, each of whom won $500.

The department of modern foreign languages in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences has 65 faculty members and 3,200 students enrolled. Languages offered include French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Swahili. Numerous study-abroad programs are available.

"Study of other languages and cultures is vital for full participation in our 21st-century world," said Dr. Heidi Bostic, department chair. "It is a vital ingredient for fulfilling Baylor's mission to prepare students for 'worldwide leadership and service.'

"There are a number of practical arguments in favor of language study: language students improve their skills in their native language, they achieve higher standardized test scores, they gain admittance to more prestigious graduate programs and they find better jobs," she said.

"But there are also other arguments: language study develops analytic skills that enable students to participate effectively in their communities. Knowing another language enables students to understand events on the global stage and to gain entrance into a wealth of artistic appreciation through film, music, and other media."

Studying a language helps students to understand diverse cultures and perspectives, an essential skill both for the workplace and for life, Bostic said.

"Amazing personal transformations can come about through developing competence in another language," she said. "For many students, such transformations mean nothing less than developing a fuller sense of what it means to be human."

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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