Happy 2017! See you later!

See you in a while!
See you in a while!

It has been a great year in 2016. I’ve been able to write more about the motivations for learning languages—and have successfully stirred up some controversy. My goal has been to highlight privilege among language learners and to shine light on those who speak less-commonly studied languages. For example, here is my most controversial post from 2016: “Language hacking ≠ language love”.

One problem has been that I didn’t spend as much time learning languages as I would have liked. So for 2016, my goal is to spend more time on Oromo and Somali. I may work on a little Serbian, since I used to know some and we have a Serbian exchange student living with us currently. Tagalog may find its way in there, too, as an associate from Manila recently joined my team at work.

In this time of growing intolerance and shrinking globe, learning languages has never been more important or political. While I have been writing discoveries made by learning languages and focusing on the languages of my community, I want to turn back to those languages for a while. Time to get back in the trenches.

I will also work on some other writing projects that have been requiring more attention.

So, I will take the next month off. I will come back in February with a summary of progress up to this point.

See you in a few weeks!

Photo by UW Digital CollectionsUW Digital Images, No restrictions, Link

Peace comes from speaking another language…or does it?

Is language enough to bring peace between peoples?
Is language enough to bring peace between peoples?
 I’m a bleeding heart when it comes to language. In post after post, I write about how learning your neighbor’s language will help bring more understanding and peace.

Let’s be honest, though. Does learning the language of another really bring peace? Young Palestinians know Hebrew. Almost all Ukrainians are bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian. Most Ethiopians and Eritreans speak mutually comprehensible languages, as do many Indians and Pakistanis.

This week I had to rethink some of my rhetoric, to tighten it up.

To achieve peace and understanding, learning a language will not be enough. We language-learners must submit and become the students of those who speak other languages. Listening to them, not imposing our view, not manipulating them, must be our goal so that we can challenge our assumptions and gain wisdom.
Don’t just learn—listen

What do you know? Languages help you understand terrorism

I’ve recently been on vacation in Spain. I went to enjoy myself and learn more about the Basque language and culture. Because of the attacks of July 14, in Nice, France, I learned about my own society in the US.

On a Spanish train, I was handed a Spanish newspaper, El Pais, which is well-known and mainstream there. On page 2 I read an editorial that ended,

With every terrorist act we re-make the war, militarize our democracies, prolong fear, and lose our identity little by little.[1]

Right below that, I read another with the conclusion,

For the moment, by anti-anxiety means, the French are resisting. But war isn’t going to stop. And every day, more war, fear, and the danger of desperation grows. There the ultra-right Front National party lurks, to regain the votes of those who want quick solutions.[2]

I never read anything so tough in the US mainstream press. The call for calm and anti-violence astounded me. It reminded me that learning another language is a political act, because it disrupts the point of view that my country, society, and community repeat to themselves and to me.
My education

Can the airport stay multilingual?

Airports are great for languages. How do we use them to teach?
I recently blogged about traveling through the Denver airport, and the languages that I saw there. Last week I had a different experience at my own local airport, MSP, Minnesota-St Paul. I spoke Somali, Oromo, and Amharic, while I heard a family conversation in Russian and a few phrases of Turkish. An international airport is a treasure-hunt and a paradise for language-lovers.
Experiencing multilingualism

Language of terror vs loving language

Listen--let him tell his story
Listen–let him tell his story

When I go to Cedar Riverside, a neighborhood of Minneapolis, to practice my Somali language, the streets are full of Somali people in the many shops and cafes. Sometimes I find that people will not respond to me in Somali—only in English. I long for someone who cannot speak English so that I can have a conversation in Somali, but I have only ever found a couple.

Now the news is coming to Cedar-Riverside, the biggest concentration of Somalis, and where I happen to go for my weekly Oromo study group. Here is a video of Fox News correspondent, Pete Hegseth, unsuccessfully trying to interview folks on the street.

The reporter claims that he could not find someone who could speak English.

Ha! Not what I’ve seen! Unlike the correspondent at Fox News, no one ever refused to talk to me. But I could never find these monolingual Somali speakers. Was it something he said?
Talk to immigrants

What are your language stories?

What story do you need to tell?
What language story do you need to tell?

I have so many stories. I’ve told them here, but I haven’t worked to craft them in a nice way.

I’ve been listening to story-telling podcasts recently like “Snap Judgment” and “Homemade Stories”, and it’s been bugging me that I haven’t told any of my stories in a really interesting way.

Upon reflection, I realized that I haven’t heard many polyglots tell a lot of stories. How could that not be? Learning languages to a high level requires lots of adventures and failures—elements of great stories.

This realization motivates me to do two things:

  1. Put some stories down. I need to start writing down these stories in a nice way. I bumbled my way through so many situations, failing to understand and to be understood.
  2. Have some adventures. I want to have new adventures, too. I don’t just want to tell my 20+ year old stories.
Do you have some great languages stories? Please tell us your adventures! Do you know of polyglots who tell good stories? Let me know who to read/listen to!

Photo credit: The JH Photography via Foter.com / CC BY

Multilingual Minnesota

Event flier in Spanish and Somali
Event flier in Spanish and Somali

Bringing languages into my community takes more work than it does at the Wellstone International High School that I spoke of in an earlier post. Fortunately, the ELL (English Language Learners) coordinator organized last week an event, “Many Languages, One District,” for a local school district. I loved attending and talking with so many different people in and about multiple languages.
Read more about this great event

Language learning as a political act (A nod to Rick Steves)

How do others help us see ourselves better?
How do others help us see ourselves better?

Many people around us are invisible. Immigrants and refugees, especially those from developing countries, fill our cities in the US and Europe. They tend to perform simple, undesirable jobs, that do not require sophisticated English language abilities. Many airports in the US are full of East African employees. Spanish often wafts from American suburban construction crews. They live and work unseen by the eyes of native-born Americans.

Hearing languages, seeking out languages, gives us new lenses to see the “invisible” people around us. And from those people, we can learn a lot about ourselves.

Acknowledging everyone around us on their own terms goes against the norm. It is a political act. Many people know Rick Steves, the PBS travel guru, but beyond leading tours to exotic locales, he coined the phrase that travel is a political act. Acknowledging those whom others do not see, and learning from them is our political act as polyglots.
Read about my discovery

Hating Swahili: The cost of bilingualism in the US

Hatred of language: What can you do?
This happened for speaking the “wrong” language.

Advocating for a multilingual public space may seem abstract or a “nice-to-have” feature for an ideal society. A recent event shocked me into the realization that language tolerance matters for life and death. Hatred towards languages begets real violence against others. We must all embrace and engage in public use of multiple languages for the sake of those who would be discriminated against on the basis of language.
The reality of language hate

Good news! 50,000 views!

Dancing for joy at Loving Language!
Dancing for joy at Loving Language!

I am grateful to communicate two recent pieces of good news for the “Loving Language” blog.

50,000 views! On Saturday, October 24, 2015, the blog hit 50k. I’m happy that people can come and learn and/or be entertained by these posts. Even more significant to me is that the blog hit 25,000 on July 23, 2015. That is, the first 25k came after 44 months; the second 25k came after a mere 3 1/2 months more. Momentum is everything, so keep telling your friends to stop by!

Here are some of my most popular posts that got us here:

Why Somali is harder than your language
Do robots love language? Bias and Google Translate
Agape Vespers: The church service for language-lovers
Also take a look at these Somali learning resources.

2,500 subscribers! As of September 29, 2015, the 2,500th subscriber followed my blog. Granted, a couple of them appear to be Vietnamese couch salesbots, but why wouldn’t they enjoy the blog, too? I hope people enjoy subscribing, whether they are people or robots. (I don’t know how or why robots follow blogs, but it certainly helps my stats.)

Photo credit: Patrick Q / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND