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Sylvia Techmanski

SHS student follows her love of languages to Brazil


Sylvia Techmanski’s favorite subject in high school was Spanish, but it wasn’t until a spring break trip to Puerto Rico that she realized her love for languages could take her farther than that.

Now a student in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science and in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Illinois, Techmanski is going further. The sophomore, pursuing a dual degree in Speech and Hearing Science and Spanish, is headed to Rio de Janeiro for the summer to study Portuguese.

Techmanski will travel to Brazil as one of four Illinois recipients of the Critical Language Scholarship to speak and learn Portuguese in Brazil. Brazilian Portuguese is deemed critical to the U.S. economy and national defense, as Brazil has the eighth-largest economy in the world.

“This summer, I'll be in Rio for nine weeks, and I'll be studying in PUC-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) which is the best university there,” Techmanski said. “It's been rated one of the best universities in Latin America multiple times which is super cool. Plus, the Brazilian spirit is so open and friendly.”

Her goal is to become a speech-language pathologist that works with bilingual clients with language disorders to help them perfect both their heritage language and English. Techmanski specifically wants to help preserve ties with their culture while simultaneously having the linguistic skills necessary to succeed in the U.S. educational institution.

The scholarship is nine weeks long, fully supported by the U.S. Department of State, and allows for Techmanski to receive eight hours of credit toward her degree. She is one of 500 students across the nation who received the Critical Language Scholarship. 

Alongside the Critical Language Scholarship, Techmanski also received the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, for which she received $10,000 in tuition and a $5,000 stipend for two semesters to study a less-commonly taught language. She will also be studying abroad in Granada, Spain, during the spring semester of her junior year.

Brady Hughes is a senior adviser in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and is the person who first told Techmanski about the opportunity. A large part of his work as an adviser is to help connect students with opportunities all over campus. 

“Sylvia's passion for learning languages and exploring other cultures has been apparent since my first interactions with her, and it's been a pleasure to see all that she's accomplished in her time on our campus,” Hughes said. “I am excited for her to return to campus and share what she's learned in Brazil.”

Techmanski first discovered the internship within one of Hughes’ emails to students, which she read in her favorite study spot at the Grainger Engineering Library Information Center. There, on the third floor, she chose Portuguese as her language for the CLS scholarship. 

“Many students who major or minor in Spanish complement their studies by taking Portuguese, and like Sylvia, they often find that the language comes easily to them, the courses are fun, and they receive individualized attention from their instructors,” Hughes said.

So far, Techmanski is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese and is in the process of learning Arabic and French. 

Her experience abroad will increase her fluency in the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, thus helping her achieve her goal of evaluating and treating the language of multilingual children, especially those of Brazilian heritage, she said.

“It’s such a big part of what gives me joy in life,” Techmanski said, “That is really inspiring for me to think about my future career working with multilingual children, of course, that speak Spanish and Portuguese, and maybe French or Arabic, but maybe they also speak like Tagalog [the national language of the Philippines]. I could use them as motivation to learn more about their language and how it works so that I can better fit their needs.”

Multilingualism is becoming more important in the United States and the SLP field is always looking for more specialists. Typically, SLPs are most requested in bigger U.S. cities where there are more multilingual communities, she said. 

After graduation, Techmanski wants to move to a big city in the U.S. to serve as speech-language pathologist for children of immigrants. After a few years in the field, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in language acquisition and work as a professor or clinic director at a university, she said.

“And as long as I'm following what I love to do, and helping others in that process, then I'm going to get experience,” Techmanski said. “I feel like I'm fulfilling my purpose, and that's through helping other people communicate and have autonomy.”

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