Long shot of Madeleine sitting on a bench on campus, smiling at the camera

Your Stories – Meet Madeleine

Name: Madeleine

Degree: Double degree in Arts and Science majoring in Linguistics and Psychology and a Diploma in Languages majoring in French

How did you end up doing such a broad degree?

I started with Bachelor of Design (Architecture) and in high school I studied a variety of subjects like Visual Arts, Textiles, French and Modern History. I thought Architecture would be the perfect mix of these but I found it just wasn’t for me. I felt quite lost, so I thought, “What have I liked in past that I can go back to?”. I really liked learning French as a second language and I found that linguistics was related to that too. I didn’t completely understand what it was at first but I researched more and in theory it sounded like something I’d enjoy.

Before I first started, people asked me “What is linguistics?” and I always replied, “I don’t really know yet, but I’m going to find out”. Now I can’t stop! I love French and I’m very passionate about languages. Then I started learning Auslan (Australian sign language) through TAFE at around the same time, so it worked out well. Linguistics and language are inherently connected with psychology; the generation of any kind of speech or language has a lot to do with our brains and the way they work. I wanted to experiment a little bit and that’s how I landed on my degree!

Has the Uni offered any unique opportunities for you?

I received the FEBE High Achiever undergraduate scholarship in my first year which enabled me to purchase an iPad. It was helpful during architecture but even more so for linguistics. For me, I’m a very visual and kinaesthetic learner and I like to draw, touch and see things, so the iPad has been influential in my study. I also received a dual scholarship, the Kelver Hartley Short Stay prize and New Colombo Plan Mobility grant, to go to New Caledonia for three weeks.

Madeleine receiving the Kelver Hartley scholarship from her French professor, Marie-Laure

I also took classes with the University of New Caledonia with the intention of learning the French language and Melanesian culture and their unique characteristics within New Caledonia. Many second-year language students don’t get the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language they’re studying, so it was an amazing experience. I met other students from Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu and made strong connections during my time there. It was a great chance to forge international relationships and foster collaboration, and it contributed to research opportunities that continued after the stay ended.

On the flight home to Australia, returning from New Caledonia

Do you have any dream or pathway you see yourself going with this degree?

I’m not 100% sure where I want to end up but I think I’d ideally like a balance between different projects or jobs, perhaps becoming an Auslan interpreter and researching within linguistics. Anything to keep me busy and my brain occupied! There are many pathways within linguistics and I haven’t discovered enough of them yet to know what I want to do. For now, I’m excited to try all different classes. I’m about to start phonetics and currently work as a research assistant with the Lab For Applied Language Sciences (LALS) here at the University of Newcastle. I’m excited to see what opportunities it produces!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

This year, a lot of my spare time is occupied with presidential and social media duties for the University of Newcastle French Society! I also do a lot of reading on my personal interests and of course I like spending time with friends and family wherever possible. I have been dancing since I was three and while I’ve left formal classes, I still love to dance anytime I can. I love going to museums, reading French comic books, buying funky lighting and swimming! I like doing laps at the Forum to start or end my day peacefully.

Madeleine visiting the current Sea Monsters exhibition at the Newcastle Museum

Do you have any advice for students reading this?

Linguistics isn’t a well-known topic. We don’t have the resources or facilities set up through Australian primary and high schools that enable students to get to university, to truly understand what linguistics is. I’ve learnt through studying French that within French culture, it’s crucial for them to learn the structure of their own language as they move through school and I still can’t believe how much the Australian system lets us down. Linguistics is something I had never even considered because I never knew it existed.

However, second language acquisition and a fundamental understanding of linguistics is important for all. I think it’s a pity that Australians whose first language is English tend to stay monolingual and most people don’t see the point or have an interest in learning a second language. We have many societal and cultural difficulties facing us, for example trying to save our First Nations languages and many people wonder how we can find a solution. However, there are not enough linguists to solve all of these issues, simply because not enough people understand what it is or know that linguistics is an option before it’s too late.

At the Bernheim mine in Népoui, New Caledonia

You can’t expand your horizons and learn other cultures without understanding the fundamental basis of how we communicate and interact with each other. For me, it’s important that people know how languages work and that they are fundamental in who we are, what we do and how we interact. Knowing the term and putting a name to it, trying to start a conversation about it and improving understanding is the most important thing for me right now because as a student who didn’t know where to go, it’s not something I would have ever come across on my own.

If anyone would like to talk linguistics, second languages or just start their own journey in finding out more, they can find me chatting away in the Lambert Lounge at the UONFS (The University of Newcastle French Society) Chat Français event every Thursday evening during semester 5 – 6:30pm.

If you’d like to share your student story, comment below or send an email to navigator@newcastle.edu.au

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