Name: Emily Harris
Nationality or Ethnicity: USA
Where do you live?: USA
Languages: English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish, Levantine Arabic, Russian
1. What is your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I grew up as a monolingual English speaker. At 18 I knew I wanted to study abroad in Germany and just wanted to learn the basics... while also relying on English (which I previously heard that Germans spoke well). It turns out that I started to really love the language and was allowed into a German literature class for 4th year German majors after 7 months of self study. I think this, compared with having mentors who believed in my progress, encouraged me to keep learning other languages. I also got to study abroad in Italy, where I perfected my Italian, and dove into Turkish and Arabic after Germany’s immigrant population caught my attention. When I eventually had to come back home, I invested more time into Spanish, as I knew this would be the 2nd most popular language to learn (considering there were many Mexican families in my town). It was also nice to be able to relate to other students learning the same language (I was abroad for half of my college degree, you can imagine how out of sync I was with my social circle when I returned my last year!). During the pandemic in 2020 I decided to devote myself to Russian, which I knew had similar grammar structures to German. Russian was truly the driving force that kept me motivated and driven towards a goal in what would have otherwise been a very boring, long quarantine. As someone who is still discovering pathways into a career, I am excited to see where languages take me in the future!
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Definitely French and Turkish. I miss being in Berlin and having access to so many native speakers in person, as well as being surrounded by people who share a similar language passion (in my small town, there is not much interest in learning other languages).
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Persian, Swahili, Portuguese, and more!
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I have so much trouble choosing! Perhaps I would say certain accents of Spanish (especially from Panama and Venezuela). However, I also find the stereotype that German sounds too harsh to not be true, it can definitely sound sexy!
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I feel like I have better access to a culture that way. I think people in general feel they can warm up to me faster, as I aim to display my respect towards them by learning their language (and it makes a great first impression!). My interest in countries outside of Europe has also grown stronger ever since I finished studying abroad. It is so important for me to invest in languages of populations that are misunderstood/misrepresented, or ones that I have not learned about enough at school (therefore creating more biases in my head about said populations). Language learning is always the key for me to unlock that curiosity and break down stereotypes. In addition, I love learning languages using other languages. When I was in Dortmund learning Turkish and Spanish through German, my brain fell in love!
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?
Unfortunately yes, though I believe that efforts to preserve languages (some centers already exist in the USA for indigenous ones) will continue.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
You will learn so much about yourself and prove to yourself what you are capable of! It teaches one to be humble, to always be curious, and to be a forever student, something that I think can be applied to all aspects of life!