Karen Lichtman

❍ Year of graduation: 2002
❍ Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics at Northern, Illinois University

Question: How did you decide to major in Spanish at Williams?

Karen Lichtman: I started out as a double major in Theater and Computer Science before switching to a double major in Spanish and Psychology– too many interests. I was initially taking Spanish just to keep up my proficiency, but as I signed up for more and more courses, it occurred to me that what I had always considered a fun hobby was also a possible career path. I also recall my high school Spanish teacher saying when I was home visiting, “I always thought you would do something with Spanish,” which was a push in the right direction.

Question: What are some of your favorite memories of classes, readings, professors, or study abroad experiences?

Karen Lichtman: Soledad Fox and Leyla Rouhi are fantastic professors, even though I am emphatically NOT a literature person. My favorite class was Fox’s class on the Guerra Civil. We discussed novels to find out what was happening in the story and how it related to the events of the war, rather than doing literary analysis. I did my project on songs about Spain’s civil war, which required me to actually listen to vinyl records in what was then the language library in Weston. Amazingly enough, it was the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to study Spanish music. I also have good memories of the Middlebury summer Spanish program and the Hamilton study abroad program in Madrid, both of which had language pledges requiring us to speak 100% Spanish (which we did follow!)

Question: How did majoring in Spanish help prepare you for what you do now?

Karen Lichtman: After graduating from Williams, I taught middle school Spanish for three years before moving to Illinois to do my Ph.D. in Linguistics. I was lucky to find a tenure-track job my first year on the market. I teach methods courses for students who want to become Spanish, French, or German teachers, as well as Spanish Linguistics courses. Although I see myself as a linguist first and a Spanish person second, I am so glad that I chose Spanish. My research is on the differences (and similarities) between children and adults as they learn a second language. No other language but Spanish could offer me such a wide variety of different types of instruction for learners of all ages.