Name: Jacob LaVoie
Nationality or Ethnicity: American
Where do you live?: Denton, Texas
Languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Egyptian Arabic, Hindi, Danish and Catalan.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I’ve been exposed to different languages my entire life and from a young age enjoyed learning how to communicate with people around me who did not speak English. That interest just grew and grew, culminating in a conscious decision around the age of 13, that I would become fluent in Spanish, French and German. Having travelled to and spent time in Mexico, Canada and France during my adolescence, I was proficient in Spanish and French. When I was 19, I decided to go to Berlin, Germany, to learn German “on the streets.” After two extended stays in Germany, I took and passed the Test DaF, went on to complete a Bachelor’s degree in German, French and Arabic and branched out to the other languages on my list. Parallel to my language studies, I had developed a love for linguistics. I am currently working as a Foreign Language Instructor in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian. When learning languages, I try to follow language family branches to put to use my knowledge of languages I already speak in order to help me learn the new language. Most importantly for me, language is a tool that connects people and I love nothing more than talking to people from around the world, being able to explore their perspectives and making friendships outside of the Anglophone world.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Arabic, without a doubt Arabic; It is the most challenging of all the languages I have learned and continually poses challenges. Hindi is number two because it like Arabic is challenging however less so due to the linguistic relationship it has to English. Nevertheless, I would love to be able to spend more time perfecting my Hindi accent.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would like to finish out the rest of the Scandinavian languages first (Swedish and Norwegian) and then complete a few that I have started like Farsi and Russian. I am very interested in learning an agglutinative language like Turkish and am fascinated by the Dravidian language family. If I gave a list, it would look like this: Swedish, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, Tamil, Czech, Greek, Swahili, Indonesian, Cherokee and then maybe East Asian languages like Mandarin, Korean or Japanese.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I don’t know if I would call it “sexy” but I have a fascination with the sounds of Brazilian Portuguese. The melody coupled with the nasalization of vowels draws me and I enjoy speaking it very much.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I suppose the challenge of learning so many is exciting for me and being able to switch between them seamlessly or being able to translate for people who need help. I teach languages as well as learning them and helping people reach whatever goal they may have is probably the best feeling of all.
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. I don’t think it will be just a “few” but probably most indigenous languages or languages of smaller communities will largely die out if there are not serious efforts to revive them. There are a few success stories but it is extremely difficult to do this as some languages are extremely challenging for adults to learn and there are not too many economic incentives for people to learn these languages. That is why it is so important to stress multilingualism today to hopefully encourage initiatives to protect endangered languages or at the very least work to preserve them.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
The most important message I stress is that language comes from our minds first and from paper second. This is to emphasize that speaking and listening are much more valuable in the long run regarding learning the language. The second most important is that grammar books teach us rules and we like that become we love to think of language as a rigid system, which is sometimes true, however it is also important to recognize that there are many irregularities in language and constant use is the only way to learn these exceptions. More to the point, try not to ask why any given language’s grammar works the way it does, just accept it like we do for our own native language(s). The third most important is connecting the language to your emotions. Doing this is the best way to “feel” the language. Similarly, making friendships in the language is a very good way to “feel” the language. remember to always be tolerant (and calm!) of words, phrases or expressions you don’t understand. Put in the work on creating a good accent in the language early on and start reading in the language from the first day.