Janae Van Dyk works to check an item off her bucket list by teaching herself Italian


Every day, sophomore Janae Van Dyk carves out thirty to fifty minutes to work towards her dreams and towards fulfilling her life. Janae teaches herself Italian.

“It’s on my bucket list to visit Italy or live there for a few years of my life,” Janae said. “ So, I figure I learn Italian.”

It all began in seventh grade when Janae’s friends decided to learn a language online. Despite the alluring option her friends chose such as German or French, Janae took up Italian. It was a step towards her future as much as it was a step into her past.

“I’m half Italian,” Janae said. “I’d like to see more of like my heritage. I don’t really know too much about my own personal heritage, so I take it in my own hands and learn it more.”

And, Janae has. Through her explorations into the language and her own background, Janae has fallen in love with Italian culture. While she isn’t sure how well she would fit in in Italy, Janae would love to live in Italy and experience their customs.

“I really just want to see how they live,” Janae said. “ It’s really fascinating to me the differences between American culture and Italian culture and how they like certain parts of the American culture, but then find others very disturbing.”

Should she ever live in Italy, Janae would be most stressed about following Italian customs. Some things Americans don’t mind are seen as rude in Italian culture. For example, you must always carry tissues with you because sniffling is the American equivalent of, as Janae put it, “going up and blowing your nose in front of the whole class during a lecture.”

Nevertheless, this dream to go to Italy has been pushing Janae to learn the language for close to four years. While she doesn’t believe she is anywhere near fluent or proficient, Janae estimates that she knows 4,000-9,000 words.

“If you have to think about a word, you don’t know it,” Janae said. “If you have to sort of pause and go, ‘Wait a second. What’s that word?’ You [have] to practice it more– or I do.”

Janae uses a variety of methods to learn Italian. To learn vocabulary, she sticks with the tried-and-true flashcards. However, she uses some less conventional methods when it comes to grammar and comprehension: apps.

Janae uses three different apps: Duolingo, Tiny Cards, and BiLingual. Of the three, BiLingual is her favorite. BiLingual contains stories in Italian, with an English translation accompaniment, that teaches the language. Janae uses it to expand her vocabulary, improve her comprehension, and practice her pronunciation.

While she is unable to practice interpersonal communication, Janae does see the upside of teaching yourself a language.

“I can control how fast that I move forward, such as I prefer to know very solidly what the vocabulary [is] that I’ve learned before moving forward and knowing that I can incorporate it fluidly into my current conversational skills,” Janae said.

Janae is incredibly dedicated and motivated; she plans to continue learning Italian until she can say that she is fluent.

I’ve come past the point of no return,” Janae said. “It would annoy me, honestly, to just know part of the language and only recognize it and not be able to output the language.”

Although she may have only started learning Italian in recent years, knowing two languages is something she has wanted for many years. Every time school gets busy or she falls into a slump, Janae reminds herself how bad she wants it.

“It’s just been, ever since I was a kid, I thought that it was cool to be bilingual,” Janae said. “So, I don’t want to be one of those people who starts a language and just quits. Sometimes it gets hard. [But], clearly, you need dedication to learn a language.”

It takes even more to learn two. Janae is also currently learning Spanish at school. Though the two languages are both derived from Latin, learning both hinders Janaes ability to improve.

“Sure, [Italian] is similar to Spanish, but not that similar,” Janae said. “It’s like non-identical twins. You know they’re siblings, but you can very much tell the difference.”

Accents will switch from side to side when going from one language to the other. Sometimes words will be spelled the same and pronounced different and vice versa. Learning both has only confused Janae.

Despite these struggles, Janae loves Italian and loves learning it.

“English is an ugly language,” Janae said. “We don’t have a lot of pretty-sounding words. I like how [Italian] flows nicer, and it has much more of a pattern to it. It’s a beautiful language.”