Spotlight on Budding Linguist Kevin O’Callaghan

By Rachel Wilmans
Staff Reporter

Panther Press has learned that Kevin O’Callaghan ‘16  is adept at languages and is mastering Spanish and French and is beginning to study Chinese here at school, in addition to picking up other languages in his personal time.

O’Callaghan sat down with Panther Press staffer Rachel Wilmans recently and had this to say about his language studies:

I speak Spanish, French and some Russian. I have taken three years of French at PVI, Spanish 4 HN and AP Spanish, and this year I’m in Mandarin Chinese 1.

Kevin O'Callaghan in Chinese class. On his laptop screen, he wrote, “I like to eat Chinese cuisine, how about you? - Zheng Kai” (Kevin’s Chinese name) in Chinese characters. [PHOTO: Liangyan Wang]

Kevin O’Callaghan in Chinese class. On his laptop screen, he wrote, “I like to eat Chinese cuisine, how about you? – Zheng Kai” (Kevin’s Chinese name) in Chinese characters. [PHOTO: Liangyan Wang]

I became interested in foreign languages when I was young; I wanted to be a spy. My parents insist living in Italy had something to do with it, and honestly I’m not sure whether it did. Nevertheless, I pursued studying because I enjoy communicating with someone in his native tongue, and I hate being handicapped by not speaking a particular language (i.e., go to Spain and only speak English). I plan on joining the military [he hopes to attend the Naval Academy], so I should have plenty of opportunity to put the skills to use.

Frankly, I don’t believe studying languages for everyone. It depends on what his/her talents are and what he/she plans to do in life. I do say, though, that if someone plans to live in another country, he should absolutely know that country’s language. Otherwise, he will be stuck in an English “bubble” and will have a difficult time with everyday tasks, such as shopping and seeking medical care, besides being unable to interact with and learn from natives. It’s my goal, whenever I travel, not to give away that I am a foreigner. That encompasses understanding culture and speaking the language very well.

I ask questions in language classes because I want to better understand the language. Even if we’re focusing on a particular topic in class, if I see something I don’t understand in a sentence structure, I ask. Learn at every opportunity you have; don’t let something you don’t understand doesn’t slide past you. I can see how a teacher, leading a class of a dozen or more other students, wouldn’t want her lesson interrupted for a seemingly random and ill-timed question. I guess Madame came to understand the reason I asked them, which is the creed I described above.

Madame Christine Casey made Panther Press aware of O’Callaghan and his prowess at languages. This is what she said:

Since teaching at Paul VI, I have never had such an outstanding language student as Kevin O’Callaghan, who must be a foreign language prodigy. Kevin first became my student in French 2. The next year he was in my French 3 Honors class, and this year he is in my French 5 Honors class. I have come to realize that Kevin has a gift for language learning which I have never witnessed before. I am dazzled by his ability to learn French.

In French 2, he was a freshman, and his questions at first were rather annoying until I realized how serious he was about learning French. Once I realized how committed and passionate he was with learning languages, his questions became a pleasure to answer—his questions, I believe, helped other students gain insight into the mysteries of learning French, and through the years, Kevin has become like an assistant who can explain, from the point of view of an English-speaker, the arcane points of the language.

He is a joy to have in class, because he always speaks French during and after class and always tries to learn new expressions. His linguistic talent, his curiosity in international matters and his interest in other cultures make him so special. When I took some students to Montreal and Quebec last year, he was in the group, practicing his French as much as he could and asking interesting questions. All the other students from the two other schools traveling with us loved Kevin.

This is not Kevin’s first foreign language at Paul VI; he has previously taken Spanish, first at level 4 Honors and then Spanish AP. It is my understanding that he received a 5 from his AP Spanish test, which is a rare thing if you don’t come from a Spanish-speaking home environment. Kevin taught himself a lot of Spanish and French even before entering Paul VI.

This past summer, he expanded his language skills by taking a government-sponsored program in Russian. From a large group of applicants, he was among the few selected to spend the summer in Moldova learning Russian. This year he is taking Chinese and is excelling in that language, as well.

Kevin has a rare gift for languages, and Paul VI is very fortunate to have such a student.

Mrs. Liangyan Wang is O’Callaghan’s Chinese teacher, and she says this about him:

Kevin is a brilliant and ideal student in Chinese class. He has a lot of passion of foreign languages and has a keen interest in current world affairs. I’m so lucky to have him in my class, and I’m so glad he is taking Chinese 2 next year.