Kent Students participate in Computational Linguistics Competition


Annie and Isaac

Emily Yuan, Editor

As Kent Lions fought their way through the difficult winter, some decided to take on the exceptional challenge of participating in NACLO, the North American Computational Linguistics Open Competition. According to Ms. Holcombe, who was a Kent student herself and has taught mathematics at Kent since 2008, nine Kent students participated in the first round at the end of January, and Annie Yang ’22 made it to the second round with a top 10% score. 

After graduating from Kent, Ms. Holcombe studied classics in college, immersing herself in ancient Greek and Latin texts, art history, and archeology. In her late 20s, Ms. Holcombe went back to school to study computer science, which she says wasn’t as different as she’d thought from studying ancient languages. “Reading ancient languages was similar to analyzing codes,” Ms. Holcombe says, “Every language has its own grammar and syntax; computer languages are just a different type.” Her love for languages and skills for analyzing their structure inspired her love for linguistics. 

As the sponsor of NACLO at Kent, Ms. Holcombe not only points students to practice problems but also emphasizes the wide range of applications of computational linguistics, such as in Google, Siri, and Google Translate. She hopes that a NACLO experience opens up career possibilities for Kent students because linguistics isn’t a field that many students are familiar with at the high school level. However, there’s currently a high demand for people trained in providing that service. “Anyone with a passion for studying languages and some technology skills would be a good fit,” Ms. Holcombe smiled. She also encourages students to consider the field of Linguistics even if they think they aren’t the computer science type but enjoy studying languages because “a language background is really helpful in entering the field, and computer programming skills can be acquired down the line,” Ms. Holcombe explained. 

Isaac Chen ’22, who has learned Spanish, French, and Italian, also feels excited when he solves linguistics puzzles. He advises younger students to focus on feeling the language instead of memorizing vocabulary and grammar points. “By studying foreign languages, you can share experiences with other people, appreciate how others perceive the world, and communicate more effectively,” Chen shares.

In her four years at Kent, Yang has explored Spanish, French, and Japanese. She immerses herself in the language as much as possible by watching shows and reading books. “I really like languages because I can use them to communicate with other cultures instead of focusing on the structure, so NACLO gave me an opportunity to look at something I don’t normally pay attention to,” Yang shared. 

Having also participated in NACLO and made it to the second round in her sophomore year, Yang compared NACLO to the AMC, American Mathematics Competition, because both are a type of problem-solving. For her, NACLO is not only a way of pursuing her interest in languages but also reinforces her exploration by pointing her in a different direction. “Language is a distinct interpretation of the world created by distinct cultures, so I like NACLO because it exposes a variety of ways in which the world can be experienced and defined,” Annie Yang concluded.