David Allen Martin II
Name: David Allen Martin II
Nationality or Ethnicity: American
Where do you live?: Berlin, Germany
Languages: English (native), Spanish, German, Italian, French, Chinese (fluent), Dutch and Swedish (conversational).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I grew up in a wholly monolingual, English-speaking environment, and from the very first time I heard a “foreign” language when I was a kid, I had always found it fascinating and somehow magical that people were able to communicate in other languages than the one that I grew up speaking. In actuality, however, my passion for languages grew organically from a love of the written word, of reading, that I developed from a very young age thanks to my mother, who began teaching both my brothers and me to read from the tender age of three.
This passion for English literature eventually sparked my interest in learning other languages as well, and when given the opportunity, I began to study first French and then Spanish in middle school. Alas, I ended up giving up on both of these languages at the time due to monotonous and unengaging conventional teaching methods, but fortunately I ended up picking them both up again and learning them after my subsequent success with the German language, which was the first foreign language that fully drew me in and in which I became a highly proficient second language speaker. The reason why I was successful with German versus French and Spanish was the focus on compelling input and listening on the part of my teacher, although I did not recognize it as such at the time. I simply knew that I was learning the language rapidly and seemingly effortlessly because I was having fun in the process.
My success with German made me hungry for more and I began studying Dutch whilst studying German and Linguistics at the University of Göttingen in Germany. After just a couple of months, I was reading books in Dutch and having conversations with my teacher. When I went on to teach English in Spain after graduating, I began taking French courses at the local Alliance Française. At the end of my 2-year stint in Spain, I found a book on how to learn Mandarin Chinese and devoured it in a weekend, whereupon I decided I would go back to school and study Sinology. Whilst studying Mandarin in Beijing, all of my classmates were Italian, so I ended up adding Italian to my repertoire of Romance languages.
And the list goes on. Languages are a gateway to understanding people and their cultures on a deeper level, and ever since I started learning them, I simply haven’t been able to pass up any opportunity to start learning another one. Today, as an experienced polyglot, translator and language learning coach, I continue to learn new languages while helping others on their language learning journey. It’s been an incredible journey so far and I look forward to exploring more many languages in the future.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
While I enjoy practicing all the languages I've learned, I would love to dedicate more time to improving my Polish. Mandarin Chinese, being one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, has significant cultural and economic importance and is by far the most “exotic” language I speak, although I’ll admit that that term is entirely relative. Polish has a fascinating history and is spoken in a country with a rich cultural heritage, and although people often don’t believe me when I say this, I find it to be MUCH more challenging than learning Chinese. Both languages are of course challenging in different ways, but with Polish, it seems there is simply always room for improvement with regard to the grammar. Of course, as a polyglot, the journey of language learning never really ends. Each language I learn opens up a new world of literature, music, film, and conversation. However, the challenge lies in maintaining and improving all the languages I’ve learned while continuing to learn new ones.
However, it’s important to remember that language learning is not a race. It’s a lifelong journey of discovery and connection. So while there are always languages I wish I could spend more time practicing, I focus on enjoying the journey and not stressing too much about the destination.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
The list of languages I’d like to learn is seemingly endless. Each language offers a unique perspective and a new way of seeing the world. However, there are a few that stand out for various reasons.
Firstly, there are languages that represent cultures and histories that fascinate me. For example, Thai, with its rich history and beautiful script, is a language I’ve always wanted to learn. Similarly, Japanese, with its complex writing system and unique sentence structure, presents an exciting challenge.
Secondly, there are languages that I’d like to learn for practical reasons. For example, Urdu/Hindi are spoken by a significant portion of the world’s population and learning them would open up numerous opportunities for communication with and understanding of hundreds of millions of people.
Lastly, there are lesser-known / endangered languages that I’d like to learn, like Yiddish. Yiddish may not have many speakers, comparatively speaking, but it represents a unique culture and way of thinking that I have been fascinated by ever since I took a Yiddish course at Berkeley towards the end of my German Studies program. I think that every little bit counts when it comes to preserving lesser-spoken languages for future generations.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
The concept of a “sexiest” language is highly subjective and can vary greatly from person to person. It depends greatly on personal experiences, cultural background, and individual preferences. As a polyglot, I find beauty in all languages. Each language has its own unique rhythm, sound, and structure that make it appealing in its own way. For some, the romance languages like French or Italian might be considered “sexy” due to their melodic and expressive nature. For others, it might be the exotic allure of languages like Arabic or Japanese. However, for me personally, the “sexiest” language isn’t about how it sounds or how it’s written. It’s about the connections and relationships that the language enables me to form. It’s about being able to communicate and connect with people from different cultures and walks of life. It’s about understanding and sharing experiences, stories, and ideas.
So in that sense, the “sexiest” language is whichever one is currently allowing me to connect most deeply with others - whether cracking jokes in Spanish, discussing philosophy in Chinese, or talking about history in German. Every language can be sexy if you speak it passionately enough!
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The greatest pleasure of speaking multiple languages is undoubtedly the ability to connect with people from all over the world. Language is more than just a means of communication; it is a bridge that allows us to understand and empathize with other cultures, perspectives, and ways of life. Being able to converse with people in their native tongue creates a deeper level of rapport and mutual understanding, breaking down barriers and fostering genuine connections. Speaking multiple languages opens up a world of opportunities and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible. It’s like having multiple lenses through which to view the world, each offering a unique perspective shaped by the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the language.
The greatest pleasure comes from the ability to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds on a deeper level than if you’re “only” speaking to them in English (or any other language that’s not their first language). It’s about more than just communication; it’s about connection. When you speak someone’s language, you’re able to understand their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. You can share first-hand in their joys, understand their struggles at a deeper level, and appreciate their unique perspectives through the conduit of their language. Moreover, each language is a gateway to a rich tapestry of literature, music, film, and art. Through these mediums, you can gain insights into the collective consciousness of the people who speak that language. You can laugh at their jokes, cry at their tragedies, and celebrate their triumphs. Speaking multiple languages can also be a source of personal growth. The process of learning a new language challenges you to step outside your comfort zone, to embrace uncertainty, and to persevere in the face of difficulty. It’s a journey that requires patience, dedication, and resilience.
Finally, there’s the sheer joy of discovery that comes with every new language that you learn. Every word learned, every grammatical structure mastered, every idiom understood is a miniscule but important victory. It’s a never-ending journey filled with moments of frustration and confusion, but also moments of triumph and delight. The greatest pleasure from speaking multiple languages is therefore the intersection of all these aspects - the connection with others, the cultural exploration, the personal growth, and the joy of discovery.
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?
While it is true that some languages are at risk of extinction due to globalization and dominant languages spreading, I believe that linguistic diversity will endure. Efforts by language preservation organizations, communities, and individuals who are passionate about their native languages contribute to their survival and seem to be intensifying, not lessening. Moreover, in an infinitely interconnected world, people increasingly see the value of being multilingual and actively learning and appreciating many languages. As long as there is an appreciation for linguistic and cultural diversity, there will be a place in the world for a wide array of languages. The question of whether the world will be left with only a few languages in a hundred years is a complex one, involving linguistics, sociology, politics, and technology. On the one hand, globalization and the spread of dominant languages like English, Mandarin, and Spanish could lead to the disappearance of smaller languages. As people adopt these languages for practical reasons, such as employment and education, this could lead to language shift over time, where communities gradually use their native languages less and less in favor of dominant ones. On the other hand, efforts to preserve and revitalize endangered languages are stronger than ever. Many communities are taking steps to keep their languages alive through education, literature, media, and technology. For example, language classes and immersion programs are being offered in schools, books and newspapers are being published in minority languages, and apps are being developed to teach these languages to new generations. Moreover, the rise of the internet and social media has given minority languages a new platform. People can now connect with others who speak the same language, no matter where they are in the world. They can share content in their language, learn from each other, and keep their language alive in the digital space. Not only that, but technological advancements may very well lead to people not having to learn other language to speak with others, as we’ll all eventually have a “Babel fish” (universal translator) in our ear that will translate every language we hear instantaneously. At that point languages would not die out from lack of use as everyone would simply speak their own language to communicate with others. More importantly, however, there’s seems to be a growing recognition of the value of linguistic diversity. Each language offers unique insights into human cognition, culture, and history. Losing a language means losing these insights. I regularly argue vehemently for the importance of preserving languages. I therefore think that, while it’s possible that the number of languages could decrease over time due to factors like globalization and urbanization, it’s also possible that preservation efforts could help maintain linguistic diversity. The future of languages will likely depend on a combination of these factors.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
To all language enthusiasts, young and old, I encourage you to embark on this incredible journey of language learning. Embrace your curiosity and passion for different cultures and languages. Don't be afraid to make mistakes; language
learning is a process, and each obstacle along the way is an opportunity to take a great leap forward and brings you that much closer to fluency. Set realistic goals and be patient with yourself. Engage with native speakers and immerse yourself in the language as much as possible through books, music, movies, and conversations. Most importantly, have fun with languages! Learning languages is a rewarding and enriching experience that opens up a world of opportunities and connections, a journey that can enrich your life in countless ways. Enjoy the ride!
A few words of advice: Firstly, understand that language learning is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, persistence, and a lot of practice. Don’t be discouraged by initial difficulties or slow progress. Every word you learn, every sentence you construct, and every conversation you have in your target language is a step forward on your journey.
Secondly, immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. This could mean listening to music, watching films, reading books, or taking every opportunity to speak with native speakers in your target language, whether online or in real life. The more you expose yourself to the language, the more familiar it will become.
Thirdly, make the process enjoyable. Find ways to incorporate the language into activities you love. If you enjoy cooking, try following a recipe in your target language. If you love sports, watch matches commented in the language you’re
learning. This not only makes learning more fun but also helps you see the practical use of the language.
Fourthly, as I said, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are an integral part of the learning process. Each mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve. Remember, fluency doesn’t mean perfection. Even native speakers make mistakes.
Fifthly, leverage technology. There are numerous apps and online resources available that can aid your language learning journey. These tools can provide you with opportunities to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills at your own pace.
Lastly, remember why you started. Whether it’s to connect with others, to enhance your career prospects, or simply for the joy of learning something new - keep that reason at the forefront of your mind. It will motivate you during challenging times and make your accomplishments all the more rewarding.
Learning multiple languages is a rewarding endeavor that opens up new worlds of understanding and connection. Embrace the journey with an open mind and heart!