By Catalina Righter
If you ask Professor D’Juan Lyons about language, he lights up immediately. “Linguistics really fascinates me, like how languages are formed, where they came from, the history of Spanish — why is it called Spanish?” he said. That’s why this past August he moved from a bustling life in Philadelphia to Elkton to help students discover their own passion for language.
“It’s different,” he said of the Eastern Shore, laughing. “I’m from the city… When I was in grad school – I went to University of MD, College Park – it was very busy. There’s always something to do, and in Chestertown its very different than I’m used to.”
“To that extent, it’s also very good. At first I thought, ‘Ahh, What is there to do? There’s nothing to do,’ he said while waving his hands around comically. “However, it’s so peaceful, so quiet, and coming from a place that’s very loud and busy, it’s very nice to get away. You know, you can look at a lake and just stare at it and not think about the beeping cars.”
Lyons attended Temple University in Philadelphia for his undergraduate degree. His fiancé still lives in the city but hopes to join him soon in his new hometown.
When not on the job, Lyons enjoys music, especially playing the piano and salsa dancing. “ I like just kind of talking and having fun with my fiancé. We just got engaged. We talk a lot and have a lot of fun together. I guess that’s a hobby? It is a hobby,” he said.
Lyons will teach four Spanish classes this semester, two beginner and two intermediate. He said he first became interested in the language from his experiences as a kid in Philadelphia. “The middle school that I went to was very diverse, so they offered Spanish as a secondary course that you could take if you just wanted to,” he said. “There were a lot of Hispanics at my school, a lot of Russians, a lot of Indians – it was very diverse, so I was used to being around people who came from different backgrounds and spoke more than one language. At the time, I was the only one who could not speak another language and so I just got involved with Spanish, and from that moment on I have continued for the rest of my life.”
“I went into high school and I was the language nerd. Now, I can see how much I may have gotten on my teacher’s nerves with all the questions I was asking about Spanish, but that’s how interesting it was to me,” he said. “So nobody in my family speaks Spanish, and I just learned from scratch.”
For his own students now, he hopes they come to class with “a humble and teachable spirit. That’s probably the biggest thing I can say, especially for a language class because you’re not going to know everything. You’re going to be wrong a lot, so one of the biggest things I encourage my students to bring to the table is a willingness to learn and a willingness to be wrong sometimes, especially as they develop,” he said.
Many students feel frustrated when learning new languages. “A lot of them [say] ‘I want to be fluent right away,’ but you need the practice and the time. It takes a while,” Lyons said. I didn’t feel like I was fluent till after, like, six years of studying the language.” Students should be “willing to make mistakes, and willing to take risks. Just try to have fun. I’m all for it.”
The rewards of learning a new language will make themselves known. “In the spring semester, I really like to go outside the classroom so [my classes] can see the reality of the language. What I really try to get them to see is how practical the language is, what you can actually do with it.”