Being American doesn’t mean speaking English

This is not the US!
This is not the US!

My family forgot, over the course of 2-3 generations, how to speak German (Swiss Basel dialect and Pennsylvania Dutch), Irish, Welsh, and Scottish. My wife’s family forgot how to speak Russian, French, and German. In the place where I live (Minnesota, USA), they forgot Ojibwe, Lakota, and Menominee, along with a countless number of European, Asian, African, and South American languages. (I have a coworker who personally forgot how to speak Aymara and Quechua.)

They didn’t simply “forget,” though. They were forced to forget. US society forces families and communities to forget. From the physical punishment of African slaves and Native American boarding school students, to the shaming peer-pressure of the modern suburban Middle School, our society squeezes the languages out of communities. Our society makes plain that to be one of “us,” your speech cannot betray any trace of the “Old World.”

Forgetting about the Old World makes us Americans.
Defining ourselves


Actual Fluency interview: Positive impact of learning pt. 2

The Danish polyglot and host of "Actual Fluency"
The Danish polyglot and host of “Actual Fluency”

In part 2 of my interview, I tell some more stories of learning my languages and my experiences at the Polyglot Conference in NYC. (See part 1 of the interview here.) Since the next Polyglot Conference will take place in Thessaloniki, Greece, I float the idea that fellow-polyglots delve into not just Greek, but into Arabic and Kurdish. Let’s use our language-learning to show solidarity with Greece’s newest populations.

A couple months ago, I was invited to an interview with Kris Broholm of the Actual Fluency podcast. I enjoy Kris’s work, as he fell in love with languages during a difficult period in his life. When I met him at the Polyglot Conference, we got to talk about how languages helped him with his depression.

Learning Somali: Interview with Loving Language at la Polyglotte

My friend, la Polyglotte
My friend, la Polyglotte

My friend at “La polyglotte” did an interview with me recently that I thought I’d share with you. It’s called, “The community at the heart of learning.” In it I discuss my background in languages, and my current process in learning Somali.

I’m proud to say that I did the interview completely in French. It was the first time I spoke French publicly, that is, outside of a simple conversation, since high school.

The “Polyglotte” is a fascinating woman, whom I met at the Polyglot Conference in NYC back in October. She comes from Paris, and her parents from Senegal. She advocates for the importance of African languages, so we’re kindred spirits in this way. These languages often get left out even in polyglot circles, since most polyglots focus on European and East Asian languages. But now that people see more economic and personal opportunities in Africa, interest in the continent’s languages is on the rise.


Lose your accent! Making the guttural “r” (German & French)

With an eye on your uvula you can pronounce this sound
With an eye on your uvula you can pronounce this sound

Improve your pronunciation of “r” in French and German! Richard explains how to position your tongue and control your breath to make this sound correctly. In this video I explain how to position your tongue and control your breath to make this sound correctly. These are the methods that I used to teach myself how to make this sound back in the day.

Many people get overwhelmed with the idea of sounding like a native in studying a foreign language. Speaking with an accent seems like a normal state. However, with a few tips on being aware of how our mouth makes sounds, a little concentration can produce great results. I made this video series to show you how to increase your awareness of all the parts of your speaking apparatus.

You can sound like a native in any language. Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Speaking a language feels wonderful as you work to move your mouth like a native.

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.


Photo credit: Evil Erin via / CC BY

Loving languages in NYC: Polyglot Conference 2015

We could affix the languages we spoke to the name tag.
Not often do I get to speak five languages in 2 1/2 days, but I had the fortune of attending the Polyglot Conference last month in NYC. I dreamed that the conference would motivate and focus me on my language-learning, so I used the event itself as motivation. I challenged myself at every opportunity to find out what languages people spoke—whether at the conference itself or not—and practice and learn. I knew my friends and family would ask me what languages I spoke at the conference, and I didn’t want to disappoint.
Read what I spoke!

Know story, know language; no story no language: Stories in the linguistic ecosystem

How can we come together over the language barrier?
How can we come together over the language barrier?

While I continued to talk, I was losing my train of thought. What had I said? What was coming next?

When was this going to be over?

As my face got hot and my chest tightened, I looked out at blank faces of my 17-year-old classmates.

“Est-ce que vous me comprenez?” “Do you understand me?”

Surprised by a direct question, one or two audience-members brightened. “Oui!” I heard.

How soon could I be done with this book report?

* * *

Every student gets nervous presenting in front of the class; mine was in a foreign language. I was delivering my part of a French book-report—French book, French report—on Voltaire’s “Candide.” Stumbling around, I felt like a kid learning to ride a bike: a few good pedals, then a wobble, pedal, wobble—ready to tumble at any time. I had to plumb the depth of Voltaire’s French language, and express it in French in a compelling way.

Finally, my speech was over. I knew my teacher would be merciful, but how about my classmates? At the end, one girl consoled me, “Yours was kind of more interesting, since you spoke without just reading your report.” I wasn’t equipped to even grasp that comment: was that a big deal or a consolation? Was she being nice, or expressing honest relief?

Over 20 years later I still ask myself, “Did I make any sense at all?”

Confronting the language barrier

Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Background

English: A portrait of Noam Chomsky that I too...
A major influence on my language love, Noam Chomsky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that everyone speaks the language(s) that exists in his or her mind. I think that’s lovely. The beauty of language is not the sound of a virtuoso at the piano; it’s the sound of birds chirping or a stream flowing, a sound untrained, but not rough, with the heart of a human being, like a child laughing. When I hear those beautiful sounds, I want to capture them and put them inside me. By learning language I can keep the sound going any time I want. As a result, there is no “better” language or “more beautiful” language inside linguistics. That judgment requires other criteria outside linguistics. Read what I learned

Week 13 of Loving Somali: Am I my brother’s teacher?

The teacher watches as the student struggles--and learns.
The teacher watches as the student struggles—and learns.

Good teachers don’t mind watching students struggle. Some even purposely cause their students to struggle. When it is time for the student to progress, the teacher pushes the student ruthlessly until the student gets to the next level. The student may not believe in himself or herself, but the teacher does, and so opposes the stubborn self-doubt of the student. As my brilliant 7th grade math teacher, Ms. Leona Penner, said, “Patience is for the birds.” This award-winning teacher believed that coddling students prevented them from reaching their potential. Learning requires struggling through discomfort, and the only comfort comes from inevitable progress that results from struggle.

Continue reading “Week 13 of Loving Somali: Am I my brother’s teacher?”

Week 11 of loving Somali: Living the Polyglot Dream

Living the dream is time for celebration!
Living the dream is time for celebration!

I’m living the polyglot dream. This term was coined by Lucas Lampariello at his blog by the same name, and I mean by it that I managed to keep my love of language at the forefront of my mind and found many opportunities for and much joy in immersing myself in languages. While I set aside time this week to be sure I was working hard on Somali, I kept my ears open when I could speak or listen to other languages. I managed to engage Somali, Amharic, Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Dutch.

Continue reading “Week 11 of loving Somali: Living the Polyglot Dream”

Meeting more Language Lovers: Attending MCTLC 2014 Conference

All my best wishes to language lovers--and the ones who teach them!
All my best wishes to language lovers–and the ones who teach them!

Last week I was inspired to meet many language teachers and representatives of educational organizations. I also had the honor of presenting to them. (Preparing for my talk, I took a break from learning new Somali so I just reviewed vocabulary.)

Friday I went to present at the 2014 annual conference of the Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Languages and Culture (MCTLC). The group consists mainly of K-12 (that is, elementary, middle, and high school) teachers of languages. Since this is Minnesota, USA, the most significant language is Spanish, followed by French, and also English for non-native speakers. I also met several Chinese and Japanese teachers and two Swedish teachers, too.
Continue reading “Meeting more Language Lovers: Attending MCTLC 2014 Conference”