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Language & Education | Language Intersection Insights with Dr. Jessica Chandras

JNCL-NCLIS Insights: Language at the Intersection

About the Episode:

JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the first interview in our Language at the Intersection Insights series. Dr. Jessica Chandras, a linguistic anthropologist and visiting assistant professor at Wake Forest University in the Department of Anthropology, will help us explore the intersection of language and education, as well as identity and how multilingualism moves her world.

Visit to explore more language intersections and learn more about this series!

The transcript for the episode can be found below.



Amanda Seewald (00:10):

Hello, and welcome to the "JNCL-NCLIS Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series, where we talk with professionals from many fields to hear their perspectives on how multilingualism moves our world. The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies proudly presents this series with generous sponsorship support from Vista Higher Learning.

I'm Amanda Seewald, current president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies, JNCL-NCLIS, and today we introduce you to Dr. Jessica Chandras, a linguistic anthropologist and visiting assistant professor at Wake Forest University in the Department of Anthropology, who will help us explore the intersection of language and education, as well as identity and how multilingualism moves her world.

Dr. Jessica Chandras (01:06):

Hi, yes, I'm Dr. Jessica Chandras and I am a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Wake Forest University, and my language intersection is Language and Education.

Amanda Seewald (01:20):

Perfect. Thank you very much. So how do you use your multiple languages in your life?

Dr. Jessica Chandras (01:25):

So my interest in multilingualism started from a young age growing up in a multilingual household where I spoke English with my mom and dad. And then I also spoke a little bit of Marathi, which is an Indian, regional language that my dad grew up speaking, with my dad and relatives, but as it sometimes happens, I lost a lot of that proficiency as I grew up. And it always stayed with me, and so I had an interest in learning languages and began to study Spanish in high school and through college. And then eventually for my graduate studies, I was able to receive a scholarship to study Marathi and to work on topics of language and education in India. So it was a part of my education. And I also was then working on education and the aspect of multiple languages was so deeply ingrained in all of this. It really motivated me to learn and continue learning more about how languages connect to our lives.

Amanda Seewald (02:30):

As a linguistic anthropologist, in what ways do you find multilingualism to be an asset to society?

Dr. Jessica Chandras (02:37):

Language really provides us with these windows into different worlds. And many of those worlds are related and languages are also very related. But what you get when you have some background in studying different languages are diverse experiences of people who can be from very different backgrounds from yourself. And so as a linguistic anthropologist, I love studying and teaching about these aspects of broadening our minds, broadening our experiences of understanding other people's lives and our own through language and through studying language too.

Amanda Seewald (03:12):

That's fantastic. You know, when I look at the information about your work and I see the different indigenous communities you've worked with and the way that you've, you've connected language with the revitalization efforts, can you talk a little bit about how language, education, and identity become a part of your work and also of who you are as a multilingual person?

Dr. Jessica Chandras (03:35):

Yeah! After I studied in my undergraduate, I got my bachelor's with a minor in Spanish and I went to teach English in the Basque Country in the north of Spain. So I had spent all these years studying Spanish, and then suddenly I was in this high school where I wasn't allowed to speak Spanish and neither were the students actually, because the school was run in Basque. So the interest that now is bringing me into my career and where I go with my research now really started in classrooms with Basque teenagers, and how they were taught to use different languages with different people in the school systems, and that largely was along the lines of authority figures. So they would speak Basque with teachers, with the principal, with anyone like myself who was a guest as an educator, and then would speak Spanish amongst themselves.

And so that was really interesting to me, to think about the ways that identity and who we speak to, how that is produced in these education spaces. This brought me, or I came to that study from looking at the feelings of pride or shame connected to indigenous language use in Mexico, in Oaxaca, the south of Mexico. What I found there in some research that I did as an undergraduate was that there were a lot of really negative ideas around the indigenous languages that people grew up speaking in the region. And then Spanish was then positioned as this language that was desirable, that was important for commerce and education. And so people wanted to speak more Spanish, which was completely understandable. So with these two experiences, after my research in Mexico, and then my teaching in the Basque country, I decided to think a little bit more about how languages are positioned with identities. And I'm beginning to work with indigenous communities, also in India, and how these languages are really defunded and also stigmatized in formal educational spaces. This can be really important to not only think about ways that people learn and how learning and using different languages broadens the diversity of our knowledge, but also the personal feelings of our connections to the language and how we feel as language is a part of our identities.

Amanda Seewald (05:53):

Wow. That's just phenomenal. I really appreciate the way that you articulated that, and it makes me think a lot about the type of advocacy that we do and the way that we look at things, cause we've been doing a lot with Native American language revitalization. And so that's a great way of putting it, so thank you for that. I have just a couple of quick questions beyond that. What do you wish that people knew about the importance of multilingualism? What do you wish that other people who weren't multilingual, or who don't look at language the same way that those of us who were entrenched in it do, what do you wish that people knew?

Dr. Jessica Chandras (06:24):

I often teach this with students who think, you know, "I don't really have much to do with language in my background. I speak one language." But we really are experts in topics of language and topics of identity and education can bring that out. We all speak varieties of language. So in some ways we are all multilingual, we know how to code switch, we can switch between different forms of languages. I always tell my students that they speak very differently with me or their parents, for example, than they speak with their peers. And that's a form of language varieties that can be fascinating and can tell us a lot about our world. So I think greater attention to how languages are interrelated and how varieties of languages can show us a lot of really important things about our identities and the spaces of interaction where we use them. This is a good starting point and really important, I think for more people to know about and think about so that we can pay closer to attention to it and move it forward as a focus of study, too.

Amanda Seewald (07:26):

Fantastic. Well, I think that pretty much, this one last question, is there anything else you want to share today about your language intersection, your story, your personal story with language, something you'd want people to know or any type of anecdote, or anything you feel like you want to tell about it?

Dr. Jessica Chandras (07:41):

I think my connection with language, growing up, really also came from personal questions in my identity, and I was lucky enough to have education that could bring those questions into my professional and education careers. And I think it's just so interesting, the ways that we are, again, experts in language, the way we use language. And when you learn different languages, it's just such a fantastic, like hands-on way to learn about different culture and meet different people. So from my experience, learning Marathi as a way to do my research and learn about topics of education and multilingualism in India was also this wonderful way of learning more about myself and my family. And through learning the language, I was able to get much closer to my relatives in India, who I growing up had not been able to speak with and through communication had not really connected with on the same levels and in the same way that I did once I started learning the language.

Amanda Seewald (08:44):

Jessica, what you have to share is so powerful and so important. And I'm so eager to hear more even about your research. And I feel as though, you know, as people hear you speak, they may be very intrigued about your work with indigenous groups and indigenous languages. And I think that your work really melds perfectly with a lot of the things that we're doing in advocacy.

Dr. Jessica Chandras (09:06):

Yeah. Thank you so much. I was gonna ask about what the next steps were and if there was more involvement that I could help out with I think it's just so important the work you're doing, and this is so wonderful to have this platform. Thank you so much. Thanks. Have a great day!

Amanda Seewald (09:30):

That concludes today's featured story from our "Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series. For more information about the advocacy work of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, please visit To learn more about this interview series, hear stories from other professionals, and explore how language moves our world, visit Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their stories, thank you to our series sponsors Vista Higher Learning, and thank you all for listening.

This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit

_____________________________ About JNCL-NCLIS: Established in 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) unites a national network of leading organizations and businesses comprised of over 300,000 language professionals to advocate for equitable language learning opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language. Contact:

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