The International Association
Name: Claire Astrid Fuchs
Nationality or Ethnicity: Belgian / American
Where do you live? Washington DC
Languages: English (native), French (C level), Arabic (MSA and several dialects including Levantine & Egyptian, C level), Spanish (B2 level), Mandarin (HSK3 level), Persian (Farsi & Dari, B1 level), Russian (A2), German and Somali (A1).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born into the USA to a Belgian (Wallonia) mother & American father, so I had a mixture of French & English growing up. When I reached thirteen years old, I was playing Call of Duty with my brother and heard a line of dialogue in Russian. Wow, that sounds so cool, I thought. Why not learn it? It can’t be toooo hard. So, that’s exactly what I started doing. I downloaded Duolingo and purchased grammar focused For Dummy books in both German and Russian, because why not? Around that same time, I began learning Spanish in elementary school and continued learning through high school. At the end of my junior year, I began volunteering with refugees resettling in Saint Louis, who at the time, were mostly from Iraq and Syria. Then, I began learning Arabic to speak with them. When I got to Texas Christian University, I enrolled in MSA & Lebanese Arabic courses and chose both French and Mandarin Chinese as minors to accompany my BA in Political Science. During my sophomore year in university, I began to volunteer with refugees again, but this time, most of them were from Central & South America and Afghanistan. In order to communicate with them, I rebooted my Spanish and started learning Dari to speak with Afghans. In August 2020, I met my current Xabibi, who is originally from Hargeisa, Somaliland. Both for fun and because I have a goal to speak with his mother when we meet in person, I began learning Somali on my own in mid-2021. Through this journey, I have fallen in love with linguistics, travelling, meeting people from around the world, learning about different religions, and have developed a new zest for language learning. Now, I have the goal to learn a few more languages, not just for communicating with refugees or for travelling, but for pure enjoyment and challenge!
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Definitely Somali, it is truly a beautiful language, but I have had difficulties finding resources for the language’s grammatical structure. Rather than acquiring languages the traditional way, I have just been learning vocabulary and throwing together sentences, which are grammatically incorrect half the time. These difficulties have resulted in me not spending the same time on the language as I have in Russian, Mandarin, Farsi, etc. If you have any Somali resources, please send them my way!
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Recently, I began learning Hebrew due to watching my favorite show, Fauda. Hebrew is similar to Arabic and maintains both similar grammar structure & vocabulary. I would also like to learn Pashto & Urdu, however, before I embark on these language journeys, I would like to advance my current languages so I do not overwhelm myself.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Hands down, PERSIAN! Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also prophetic, poetic, and deep. One can say so much with so little and easily speak in metaphoric poems, like those found in the poems of Hafiz.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The instant connection and joy from those you speak with. Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart,” and I believe this is true with using interpreters as well. When I worked with refugees, I always had a closer connection and empathy for those with whom I could converse, whether it was Sudanese Arabic, Syrian Arabic, or Dari. Heart to heart connection drives empathy and compassion… where would we be without that?
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in 100 years, do you think this is really true?
Definitely not, especially when there are language geeks like us around! I believe Chinese (Mandarin) and English will continue spreading around the world, but there are still thousands of languages that belong to remote tribes & villages & those who are not connected with globalism. These individuals will continue speaking in their native tongues for the next few hundred years, at least.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Just do it! There is nothing holding you back. All it takes is time, commitment, maintaining a solid study plan, and finding friends to practice with in-person or over the phone. Do not believe the myth that you can only learn languages when you are a child or that language learning is a genetic trait (it is true for some, for instance, both my sister and mother speak 5+, but my brother only speaks one! What a slacker… jk, he’s an aerospace engineer). Once you begin your multilingual journey, you will fall in love with the world, travelling, and connecting with people like yourself from around the world.