ADVICE FROM A LOCAL POLYGLOT
by FIEL SAHIR
Second-year undergraduate Classical Guitar Performance
What do you call someone who speaks three language? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.
It’s a stereotypically sad but reversible truth! If you see me walking down the hallways of NEC, there’s a great chance that you’ll hear me break out into at least two languages, which often leads to the question, “How did you learn/how do you speak so many languages?” As a kid, I would pore over maps, atlases, flags and history books. Being an “international student” has always been a part of me. I was once riding in a van full of adults who were all laughing their heads off and having the time of their lives. I wasn’t too happy because I didn’t want to be left out, but more importantly, I wanted to laugh with them! I vowed that I would learn their language.
I began learning Indonesian at the age of 13 when I went back to visit family, and from there I kept practicing with the Indonesian community in NYC. I took Spanish (and was excited) in 8th grade, but the teacher was horrible and could barely speak English, so I told myself I wouldn’t learn it in high school. To escape my horrible experiences, I decided to take French, but I became bored learning grammar rules…after all, languages are about people! Then I was given a scholarship to do community service in the French-speaking country of Senegal. It forced me to speak the language, and French became my “first second language,” following Indonesian from my childhood.
This past January at the age of 20, having dabbled in Spanish for years, I decided to step up to the plate and actually learn it. After a week, I was able to speak sentences (having vocab in your head is a good thing) and now I consider myself conversant. I’m currently at four languages, and I honestly believe that if you try hard enough, you can learn a new language every year (maybe even sooner if you try!) Don’t make excuses– most people in the world are bilingual, and there are polyglot societies everywhere! In the Senegalese Village I stayed in, they spoke Wolof, Serer, and French; in Suriname, they speak Sranan Togo, Javanese (or Hindi depending on ethnicity), and Dutch. The Afghani children from ANIM that came to NEC in February spoke Pashto, Dari, and English. Throughout the world, many people are required to learn the language of their state/province, followed by their national language, then possibly by the language of their ex-colonial rulers. It’s interesting to note that none of the countries I mentioned are Western World powers! Essentially, these people use one language with their family, another for the general population (amongst different ethnic groups) and yet another at school and for administrative purposes. NO ONE is incapable of learning another language. It’s all in the mind! It’s all fear for never having done it before.
You’re probably asking yourself, “Why should I bother?” You WILL meet amazing people you would have never met and gotten close to all because you know a little something about their culture or speak their language! I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve made because I speak French! If you think that you’re anti-social, introverted, and an “awkward” person (I hate the A word), learning a language is a good bubble burster! Languages are a great channel to help you make friends faster. If you get out of your comfort zone and learn a bit about the world, you’ll have conversation starters all over the place. Note: It does not mean when you meet a Parisian you talk about baguettes and Ratatouille (see Mathilde’s article on page 10!)
To close, learning another language will make you a better person and throw you out of your comfort zone! In this global world, we all need to learn another language and not depend on the fact that “EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH.”
HOW CAN I LEARN A LANGUAGE?
- LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN! Movies, podcasts, and music! Listen to lyrics! Write things down!
- MAKE FRIENDS. If you care enough, you’ll find people who speak the language you want to learn (I always do).
- DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING PERFECT! People always make mistakes! We make
mistakes in English all the time!
- USE YOUR SMARTPHONE! There’s an iPhone app called “TuneIn Radio.” You can use it to listen to radio stations from across the world, and it’s an amazing resource!
- BRING THE CULTURE/COUNTRY TO YOUR ROOM. People say you have to go abroad. I’m sorry, but I call their bluff. There are people here! Wherever you’re from in this country, chances are there’s an immigrant community! One of my language learning role models is Benny the Irish polyglot (most of the ideas on fi3m.com are from him). He just spent three months in Brazil learning Egyptian Arabic to prove you don’t have to be there to do it. People say they don’t have time. It takes 30 minutes a day in this day and age, and that’s nothing because we spend that much time on Facebook. You can even change your languages on Facebook, YouTube, and your iPhone to your target language!
- RELATE IT TO MUSIC. You won’t be a guitar virtuoso in a day any more than you’ll be fluent in Zulu. Music is a language, and language is music, thus it takes time and practice.
- JUST GO FOR IT! This summer I plan to tackle another language. Don’t worry about how hard a language is. If there’s a will there’s a way!
- ASK FOR HELP! Are you ready to speak another language? Really? Show me. If you want to accept the challenge drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d be more than happy to get you started and give you whatever help you need to begin your journey as an “international student.”
A man who does not know a foreign language
is ignorant of his own. – Johann Goethe