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Interview with

Laura Celedon

Name: Laura Celedón
Nationality or Ethnicity: Colombian-American
Where do you live?: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Languages: Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Turkish

1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?

I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, but was raised in Framingham, Massachusetts. Framingham is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, so I was surrounded by many immigrants and children of immigrants growing up. My parents immigrated from Barranquilla, Colombia in 1989 and have been in the United States ever since. They understood the importance of preserving their language and culture, so they wanted my sister and I to have a bilingual education. We went to Barbieri Elementary School from kindergarten through 5th grade. Our subjects were taught in both Spanish and English, which gave us the necessary tools to become responsible global citizens. My classmates and teachers were from all over Latin America and the United States. They were from Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and other parts of Latin America, so I was exposed to many Spanish dialects at a young age.

I started learning French when I was three years old thanks to my mom. She is of French descent and wanted me to learn French at an early age. Although I did not have many hours of formal French education, I have been mistaken as a native speaker due to my ability to reproduce French sounds naturally. In fact, I can still remember many of the songs that my mom and I would sing together to this day. It was not until 10th grade that I started learning what I consider my first foreign language: German. One day, my mom and I discussed which elective I should take and she told me that I should take International Business. Though I understood her reasoning, I was not convinced, so I started looking at the course catalogue in greater detail and found out that my school offered German, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian. After some thought, I signed up for German 1, knowing that I could take German up through the AP level. Although the language was new to me, German ended up being so much fun that I enrolled in German 2 at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota the following summer. I took Honors German 3 during my junior year, taught myself German 4, and took AP German during my senior year.

Due to my motivation, Herr Baysinger ended up being my German teacher two years in a row. I owe so much gratitude to him, as he pushed me to become a more compassionate and loving individual and language learner. He not only taught me the German language, but also made me do instantaneous interpretation, write creative essays, read fantasy, and become a very proactive word detective. I knew that I wanted to study more languages in college from that moment on. Herr Baysinger also spoke Russian and started a Russian Club. Some of my German classmates and I who were interested in Russian joined the club and learned cyrllic and basic Russian. This experience made me fall in love with the Russian language. In college, I pursued a major in Italian Studies and minors in French and Francophone Studies and Russian Language. I also took courses in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. I have been learning Swedish and Turkish since graduating from college despite working full time. The internet has been an amazing tool to speak with interesting people from around the globe in their native languages.


2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?

In an ideal world, I wish that I could spend more time practicing all of my languages. Ever since graduating from college, I no longer have as many opportunities to speak as many languages as I used to. However, I listen to international music and media throughout the week. I also love chatting with my international friends and family on LinkedIn, Messenger, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms.


3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

Turkish is my first non-Indo-European language. Though it has been challenging, it has inspired me to learn more non-Indo-European languages in the future. I am also fascinated by scripts, so I would like to learn at least one other script in my lifetime. Right now, I am most interested in learning Hebrew, as I want to study abroad in Israel for a summer. I also aim to give back to the Jewish community that has always welcomed me with open arms. My Jewish friends are some of the kindest people I have ever met, so I could learn Hebrew as a token of gratitude. As a child of immigrants, I aim to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue with regional focuses on Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. By learning Hebrew, I could understand Judaism at a much deeper level. Israeli food is also one of my favorite cuisines, so I want to learn more about it. I want to become a food studies professional, so gastronomy is at the center of everything that I do. I have never been to Israel, but would love to visit there someday.


4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

This is a hard question to answer, because I think that every language is beautiful in its own way. Instead, I want to share some expressions that I think capture the essence of the languages that I speak. I really love the expressions “chévere” (Spanish), “ouai” (French), “achso” (German), “boh” (Italian), “Всё хорошо” (Russian), “Tenho saudades de você” (Portuguese), “fika” (Swedish), and “çok güzel” (Turkish).


5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

I believe in the power of human connection through language, which can transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. I have noticed how grateful people are when you make the effort to speak their language. As a child of immigrants, I try to create safe and inclusive spaces for people to open up, so that they can come fully as they are. Sometimes, all you need is for someone to understand you and listen to you. As Nelson Mandela once said: “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, you speak to his head. If you speak to him in his language you speak to his heart.”


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?

Despite globalization and technology being on the rise, I don’t think that this will happen. Languages have been used as a means to preserve cultures, to resist opposition, and to innovate. According to Busuu, there are over “6,500 languages… spoken in the world today. Each and every one of them make the world a diverse and beautiful place.” As HYPIA members, it is our duty to share the beauty of languages and how they connect and unite us. I am more than happy to do whatever I can to support these efforts, whether it be by signing a petition, delivering presentations, or opening up room for meaningful conversations.


7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

In my opinion, the three most essential components of language learning are: dedication, motivation, and patience. Many people end up giving up very quickly, because they think that they are too old to learn a language. Others think that they are not smart enough to learn a language. That is simply not true. If you are willing to put in the effort to learn a language, you will be successful. I also think that you should realize how much your life can change by learning a new language. For example, if you want to learn Russian, picture yourself being able to order at a restaurant in Moscow or think about how fulfilling it would be to have deep conversations with Russian university students in their native language. You should also be kind to yourself and remind yourself that language learning is a lifelong process. I wish you the best of luck in your language learning journey.

¡Gracias! | Thank you! | Merci! | Danke! | Grazie! | Спасибо! | Obrigada! | Tack! | Teşekkür ederim!