Many American teens might perceive a 10-day trip to Mexico as a chance to party. Not Joseph Glass. For him, it's an opportunity to hone his already considerable foreign language skills.
The 17-year-old rising senior at Augusta Preparatory Day School already is fluent in French and German. Though he has studied Spanish for three years, and learned it so well he qualified for the free trip south of the border, Glass doesn't consider himself a master of the language.
"I'm not fluent in Spanish, because I've had less time to practice it," he said. "I'm hoping this trip will help with that."
Glass was one of eight students selected for the trip by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese after scoring in the 99th percentile on the 2009 National Spanish Exam.
Also attending will be 20 students selected by the Spanish National Honors Society.
Glass and his traveling companions left Monday and will return next week.
"It's for well-accomplished Spanish students from around the country to practice Spanish and learn about Mexican culture," he said.
Prior to learning Spanish in school, Glass taught himself to speak French and German.
"It started in third grade when I started watching movies in different languages and I was fascinated by the sound of the language," he said. "I went online and found a lot of good Web sites with some free material to learn basic grammar.
"Afterward, when my family saw I was serious about it, my grandparents and my aunt would buy me books to learn more grammar."
To truly learn a language, though, you need to hear it, he said. Audio tapes and YouTube clips helped Glass learn the French dialect.
But it was by teaching someone else to speak English that Glass mastered German.
"When he was in middle school, there was a German student there who couldn't speak English," recalled Glass' mother, Nancy. "They knew Joseph had taught himself German, so they got him to work with the German boy and help him with his English."
The tutoring helped Glass make a stronger connection to the German language.
"There are fine points in languages that make you look at things differently, think about them differently," he said. "The true comprehension of the language is being able to think in it."
After Spanish, Glass said he wants to learn Latin, ancient Greek or Yiddish.
Though languages are his passion, they won't be his career choice.
"My family keeps pushing me to do something with languages, but I want to be a neurosurgeon or neurologist. I might double major in French literature."
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