Name: George L. O’Hara
Nationality or Ethnicity: American, Irish
Where do you live?: Washington, DC
Languages: English (native), French, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
My love of foreign languages grew out of a life-long interest in foreign cultures and their history. I witnessed how the confluence of cultures can enrich society while growing up in Washington, DC. The quality of language instruction at the Washington International School enabled me to reach fluency in French and Spanish. My study of Russo-Napoleonic history through French and Russian literature inspired me to learn Russian in college. My immersion in Russian culture during a summer in St. Petersburg led to a broader interest in the trajectory of Eastern Europe. I pursued this interest by learning Ukrainian and serving as a Fulbright public health researcher in Ukraine. Most recently, I have pursued this interest by learning Polish.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish that there were more chances to speak French, as well as Polish.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would most like to learn Portuguese, Turkish, Farsi and German.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I most enjoy learning languages because speaking them allows me to learn from people whom I otherwise would never have known, and to express myself in ways otherwise not possible.
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?
I have witnessed how central language is to personal identity, as well as to national identity. I believe that in the next one hundred years, this importance of language, combined with the acceleration of population growth in many regions of the world, will sustain many more than a handful of distinct languages.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
My message to those intent on learning multiple languages would be to establish a structured study schedule, to seek practice from people who are native speakers, and to identify a sustainable purpose which will provide continuous motivation while learning.