Why Putin could (will?) eat Trump’s lunch

Who has greater global insight? Who speaks more languages?
Who has greater global insight? Who speaks more languages?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin possesses some amazing language skills for the leader of a world power. In this video of a town-hall style discussion, he jumps in on the interpreter and does it himself.

We all know he spent a good portion of his career in Germany, which explains his very strong German skills.

But let’s think of it this way. When Mark Zuckerberg addressed a Chinese university audience in Mandarin in 2014, the audience literally responded with Oos and Ahs.

(I was disappointed that President Obama spoke so little Bahasa Indonesia after living there as a boy. He got Zuckerberg-style applause.)

Mr. Putin also gives speeches in English, but I don’t hear anyone Oo or Ah.

Why this contrast? Because Americans don’t learn foreign languages to a professional level. A Russian leader is trilingual, and gets modest applause. An internationally-renowned American CEO speaks modest Mandarin and receives great accolades.

Now we have a president who has shown no interest in foreign languages, for himself or for anyone else.

Mr. Putin possesses a clear advantage over President-Elect Trump. When one knows foreign languages, one has insight into other peoples, countries, and cultures.

Who needs this sort of insight more than a powerful world leader?
Languages at the top of power

Language hacking ≠ language love

How will you hack your language to help others?
How will you hack your language to help others?

When I first saw Benny the Irish Polyglot’s TEDx talk, I was inspired. Here was a guy who suffered through language-learning in school with no success. Then one day he decided to just start learning on his own in his own way, and he made huge strides. Not only did he discover that he could learn languages, but he loved learning them. He “hacked” the language-learning process.
He created a very successful blog and YouTube channel. You get to see him struggling through the language-learning process as he has conversations with young folks all over the world. You follow his life in great locations like China and Brazil.

Living the dream, he inspired others. Lots of other young folks like him wanted to go live in exotic locations and hang out with cool local people and learn languages in the process. Other YouTube channels were generated.

Aspiring digital nomads (compulsive travelers whose work happens completely on the internet) got on the bandwagon. They wanted to go to exotic locations. Whether their internet connection comes in Bankok, Brasilia, or Barcelona, they could live anywhere—and learn the local language.

The digital nomads became the digital colonists. They came to take advantage of cheap rent—sometimes pricing locals out of whole neighborhoods—and “exoticness” for their own excitement. Rather than try to become part of a local community, they stay until the place is less exciting and then follow their Wanderlust.

Rather than inspire people to become more moral human beings, Benny’s “language hacking” gave people the tools to exploit more people in more countries—and have fun doing it.

It inspired selfishness. Not love.
Why loving language

Becoming our betters selves through love and language

Are we ready to leave our comfort to pursue wisdom?
Are we ready to leave our comfort to pursue wisdom?

We are missing out on a learning opportunity as a society. Rather than encourage the perpetuation, growth, and exchange of language, fear drives out languages. Building walls to keep out foreign others takes precedence over listening to new voices that may know more than us. Forcing them, in spite of their past and present struggles, to talk to us in our language insults and degrades them and us.

Alternatively, we could learn the languages around us, and put our resources and our prestige behind teaching these languages to our children. Let my children speak to their friends’ parents in their language, while their friend speaks to me in mine—or teaches me hers. Learning the stories that come from “the old country” holds a mirror up to our society, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly, for us to celebrate, to correct, or to apologize for.
What are we missing?

Tutors: The key to picking up a language abroad

Find a nice language teacher for your next trip
Find a nice language teacher for your next trip

I just realized that I have used a language-learning technique multiple times without realizing it. When I travel to another country, I get a language tutor. That way I get some directed learning before I go out to speak to the people. As a result, I have advanced quickly in my language while abroad.
Finding a tutor

Why don’t they learn our language? or How did they manage to do it?

How would you study after a day in the life of an immigrant?
How would you study after a day in the life of an immigrant?

Continuing on the theme of “Why don’t immigrants learn our language?” (see this post and this post) I wanted to present why the situation is not as simple as people think.

Most people who complain about this in the US speak English only, and so remain blissfully unaware of the complications of learning another language.

My more sophisticated brothers and sisters in Europe likely learned English, and so understand the difficulties. Nevertheless, they learned their foreign language in the comfort of their local school surrounded by family and friends taking care of them.

Immigrants have it hard because of their circumstances, both the situation they left and the life they have in their new country. Learning a new language creates even more work and difficulties in addition to getting by in this new, foreign place.

Yet they learn.

When I used to teach, I remember the reaction of my students when I would add an extra reading assignment. “We don’t have time,” they would inevitably say. I would smile and tell them that one day they would learn what “busy” meant, but at the moment, they were not busy.

We are not as busy as we think. This is what many of us have to grow into when we think about immigrants, and a valuable lesson immigrants can teach the rest of us.

Let’s look more deeply into their circumstances. It’s humbling. We’ll see that the question is not, “Why don’t they learn our language?” but “How did they manage to learn our language?” At the end, I’ll give you a few ways to use your favorable circumstances to the advantage of others.
How they learned

Keeping up the other languages: A six (five and a half?) language week!

As a polyglot I get to talk to all sorts of people!
As a polyglot I get to talk to all sorts of people!

Yes, I’m focusing on learning the Somali language. Somali takes the majority of my linguistic time and energy. But speaking lots of languages makes me a polyglot—and that brings me so much joy. This week I got to talk to old friends, discover great music, and meet new people. Though I haven’t had much time for more than the bare minimum of Somali, here’s how I worked on my languages this week.
My polyglot week

Мен қазақша жақсы көремін! Learning community languages in Kazakhstan

How do we encourage young people to speak their parents' language?
How do we encourage young people to speak their parents’ language?

I recently heard about the phenomenon of young Kazakhs who do not know the Kazakh language. With a quarter of the population Russian and Ukrainian, the Russian language seems to dominate, even over the two-thirds majority of ethnic Kazakhs. Whether for cultural or economic or even more complicated reasons, young Kazakhs seem to be turning their backs on the language of their ancestors.

An unlikely challenge to this state of affairs came from Rich D, a Nigerian hip-hop artist, who performs in the Kazakh language. Hear his tribute to the capital, Almaty.

In an interview on Kazakh TV (conducted in Russian) he said, “I am totally shocked that still people don’t speak it (Kazakh). This is one of my tasks, that I simply give to these people who do not hold on to their own language, that foreigners come here and respect this country and even try to speak this language. Why don’t you want to speak this language? Why don’t you respect this language?”

More about community languages

You’re already learning languages like a baby (Don’t be fooled)

Babies have a language advantage: Cuteness!
Babies have a language advantage: Cuteness!

No language-learning program knows what it’s talking about when they say they can show you how to learn a language like a baby. There’s no other way.

My kids revealed the secrets of language-learning to me. I was teaching them Russian with they were between 4 and 7 years old. I spoke with them and they went to a Russian class for an hour per week.

I knew the difficulties of learning Russian, but I was fluent by that point, even having worked as an interpreter and translator. I had figured out the tricky parts of the grammar, but my kids’ grammar was hopeless. I didn’t know what to do.

I told their teacher that the kids always messed up verb conjugations and noun declensions, so that all verbs were second person and all feminine nouns were in the accusative. He smiled and said, “Yeah, kids always mess those up.”

I always messed those up, too!

Russian is just hard!

Lose your accent! Rolling your “r” (Spanish, Italian, Russian)

Focus and you can make your tongue do whatever you want
Focus and you can make your tongue do whatever you want

Learn how to roll you “r” in Spanish, Italian, and Russian! Did you know that if you speak American English, you’re already half-way there? 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.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Abu via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Related articles

Lose your accent! Russian soft consonants

Focus on your mouth and you can sound native!
Focus on your mouth and you can sound native!

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!

Here I focus on Russian “soft consonants” or “мягкие согласные.” In linguistics we call them “palatalized consonants,” because you pronounce them with the middle of your tongue on the roof of your mouth or “palate.” English speakers tend to pronounce these sounds with a separate “y” sound, which is not correct. Pay close attention to the video!

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.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Giacomo Carena via Foter.com / CC BY-SA