October 7, 2013
By Gabrielle Lachtrup '16
An Economics major with a minor in Mathematics, Ahlam Nadifi has spent her last three years at Mount Holyoke preparing for a career in international banking. Born in Morocco, Ahlam has developed a passion for travel, and has recently returned from a year of studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition, she has just begun her on-campus position as a mentor with the Language Resource Center (LRC).
While the fields of banking and language tutorial may not seem to be very connected, Ahlam has already discovered ways of linking her present employment with her future goals. “This summer, I interned with ING [Financial Services] in Luxembourg,” she says. Ahlam notes that her time as a language tutor had prepared her to “speak cooperatively and constructively” with her coworkers. “As a mentor, if I see a student making the same mistake over and over again, I still try to help them with the same level of enthusiasm.” This ability, she feels, “will help me, regardless of the work I end up pursuing.”
At the start of her Mount Holyoke career, Ahlam was given a position in Dining Services. Towards the end of her first semester, however, she found herself becoming interested in new venues of student employment. “I wanted a challenge,” she says. “The best opportunity would have been one where I could talk to people and share the skills I already had.” A member of the French department suggested that Ahlam’s fluency in French and Arabic would make her a strong candidate for a tutorial position. Ultimately, she ended up working in both the Arabic and French language departments until the end of her sophomore year, when she was offered the chance to take on greater responsibilities as an LRC Mentor.
Already, Ahlam has observed significant differences between the two positions. “As a tutor, you tend to work on a highly individual basis with students, whether it’s on a written assignment or speaking together as a pair.” Mentors, by contrast, hold group study sessions twice a week. “Students will often drift in and out to ask questions about grammar and pronunciation, or just to practice their speaking skills.” One of her Ahlam’s greatest challenges is keeping “different needs balanced” for each of her students. “Instead of correcting assignments or going over every detail, mentors have to focus more on guiding students to their own solutions,” she says. This, however, has the benefit of making students more independent. “They end up developing the resources they need to continue language study on their own.”
While she enjoys many aspects of her work, Ahlam says that her favorite part is when she is able to see her peers progress. “Watching as they figure out something for the first time is very special.” In particular, Ahlam loves it when students find themselves gaining confidence in their speaking abilities. “To me, that’s the most important part of any language.”
Her tenures as both a language tutor and an LRC mentor have allowed Ahlam build many skills of her own. “In particular, I’ve learned how to communicate with students, and to adapt my level of communication to suit their needs. So much of what I do is making sure that I’m able to work effectively with students, regardless of their prior exposure to a language.”
After two years of tutorial instruction, Ahlam has much to say to her fellow students. “Never take a language just because it’s required!” Instead, students should use Mount Holyoke’s language requirement “to discover some aspect of study that they’re passionate about.” In addition, she says that students should practice their skills as frequently as possible. “When I was first learning Spanish, I tried to speak it as often as I could. Sometimes, I would even talk to myself alone in my room!”
As much as individual practice can help, however, Ahlam advises that students also take advantage of all the resources Mount Holyoke has to offer language learners. “Take the time to seek out native speakers,” she says. “We’re out there!”