Name: Jared Gimbel
Nationality or Ethnicity: United States
Where do you live?: Brooklyn, New York
Languages: English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, Spanish, Greenlandic, Hawaiian, Cook Islands Maori
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
American English is my native language. I’ve been reading the Hebrew Bible since I was a kid, but I didn’t get exposed to Modern Hebrew until 2009, upon enrolling in the Ulpan in Jerusalem. Yiddish is my heritage language I discovered in college, Swedish and Hungarian the other languages of my great-grandparents, and I discovered Hawaiian as a 7-year-old kid thanks to books that my grandmother gave me. I discovered Greenlandic at a local library in Connecticut and Cook Islands Maori in a bookstore during a vacation.
Since my preteens I wanted to speak other languages but I was, along with many other Americans (and others) fed this mythology about being too old to learn it well after a certain age. When I discovered thanks to blogs and dinner table conversations that it wasn’t the case, I started realizing my dreams one by one. I learned upwards of a dozen languages to conversational fluency, but then years passed and then it occurred to me that I should focus more on quality and improving the languages I like the most. In addition to that I took it upon myself to be a “content creator” in vulnerable and endangered languages, like Cook Islands Maori, Yiddish and Hawaiian. That journey is still ongoing.
Part of my motivation for doing this was the understanding that I only had one life and I wanted to explore this planet in more depth. Another part was that my parents gave me a giant board book of maps of the world when I was a toddler. Yet another part was the fact that I moved around a lot as a child (I’ve lived in four different states as a kid and five different countries as an adult), so my sense of being grounded was to places I held dear in my heart rather than a physical plot of land.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Greenlandic and New Zealand Maori. Greenlandic has an extremely impressive and intimidating array of about 300 suffixes for verbs and about 100 for nouns. I love the sound of Maori, in particular the “u” and “au” sounds, and Alien Weaponry’s Maori-language thrash metal is fantastic, not also to mention the fact that I found the Maori dub of “Moana” to be extremely well done.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Maori, Tahitian and Tuvaluan would be the Polynesian languages I’d like to learn the most after finding myself with a high satisfactory level in my other languages. I already know them to varying degrees but they’re not an active focus of mine right now. Upon getting married one day I would also like to explore the heritage languages of my spouse’s family, whatever those end up being.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Greenlandic for men, Hungarian for women, Maori for both / everyone else.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Polyglotism is a teleportation device. While reading the Hebrew Bible I am in a land of desert nomads and in mere minutes I could be walking on the streets of a Greenlandic settlement listening to the music of Nanook or Rasmus Lyberth. Then with my Cook Islands Maori radio broadcast I find myself on heavenly Rarotonga and then after five minutes I’m back in Brooklyn again while meeting up with my Yiddishist friends in the holy city of New York.
For some polyglots their goal is to speak with many people. I always found myself with a goal to explore my roots and explore places I’ve dreamt of since childhood, and polyglotism enables me to do just that.
Lastly when speaking to speakers of my great-grandparents’ languages (Swedish, Yiddish and Hungarian), I feel that I am talking to long-lost family members. Their mannerisms and jokes remind me of my own upbringing, and the connection I feel to them is almost immediate. They see the same in me, as the American who decided to rediscover his roots with the divine gift of language learning. This is especially powerful given how many Americans shed their ethnic identity after a generation or two upon coming here. My friend Ross Perlin told me once that sometimes your family language doesn’t disappear, it just skips a generation.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
Luckily due to the Internet as well as its ability to bring together groups of hobbyists of all sorts, I think that it may serve as a time capsule for many languages from throughout the globe.
My friend Brian Loo prefers to use the term “sleeping languages” instead of “dead languages”, as evidenced by the revival of languages that have had no native speakers remaining. On one hand you have something like Cornish or Livonian, and on the other you have projects like modern Sumerian. I’ve seen text written in Cuneiform and Egyptian Hieroglyphs on social media.
To address your question, I’d venture probably not. The word is getting increasingly streamlined into a number of narrow cultural channels, such as American pop culture. I even hear Christmas music themed around snow playing on South Pacific radio stations during December (which is their summertime).
I have a feeling that there will be resistance to this and people will explore their roots, indigenous cultures and ways of life in distant lands. Will most people do this? I don’t know. But with the rainbow of the world’s languages being diminished, I trust that human ingenuity and brotherly love will come to its rescue in a way none of us see coming.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
A lot of people give up studying languages because there aren’t enough materials, but all you really need is just one or two basic guides or good starting books and then material (both written and spoken) present online. Even for a language like Cook Islands Maori I can find both online with significant ease. Use Glosbe’s translation memory. It’s literally the best language learning tool you can find and thanks to JW’s material being translated into 700+ languages, it is available for many minority languages, too.
Writing exercises are essential.
Shut out your native / dominant languages as much as you can during the learning process. You can still use them with family. You have to give the languages you want in your life ample “temples in time”.
Read articles. Find all words you don’t know. Look them up and write sentences with them.
Use only flashcards you make yourself. Opt for cloze deletions rather than simple definitions. (e.g. wehewehe = explanation.)
Find yourself dreaming or thinking in one language before moving onto your next one.
Don’t compare yourself to other learners.
There is a lot of resistance to polyglotism found in many forms. Your visions for your life are more important than that.
Getting responded to in English or similar forms of resistance just means that you should improve more. And it is possible. You’ll look back at those days and laugh, after you’re fluent, that is.
Write posts in your languages. Make videos in your languages. Do everything you can with them. Because that way we can avoid the fut33 re in which 90% of our languages will end up dead. Every little sentence counts.