Name: Suzette Shipp
Nationality or Ethnicity: African American (USA)
Where do you live: Bay Area, California (USA)
Languages: English, French, Kiswahili, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
When I was twelve, I chose to study French as my first foreign language. (My mother gave me a French name so it fit.) At first, I struggled because I didn’t understand that I had to practice every day and not just the days I had class. Fortunately, my enthusiasm carried me through! One summer, I stayed with a French family for a month. That’s when everything came together for me and I began to think and dream in French. After that experience, I loved learning about other languages, cultures and peoples. Spending a year in France as a college student spurred my development as an intellectual. The fact that I could live in a place where discussing philosophy, politics and linguistic theory in a café with friends for hours on end was not considered a waste of time was a revelation for me. As an adult, I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled widely. Before I went to a new country, I always tried to pick up “please”, “thank you” and words of praise to bestow upon the art, music, landscape and food. I was always amazed at the warmhearted receptions I received when I attempted to communicate with people in their own language(s). My desire to understand the cognition of others and to communicate on the same plane drove me to language mastery.
2. What language do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
I wish I had more time to practice reading Kiwsahili poetry.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I’d like to learn Xhosa. Who doesn’t love a language with clicks? And, Farsi because I’d love to read Rumi in the original.
4. So, let’s be honest. What’s the sexiest language?
French…followed by Brazilian Portuguese.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I have forged many profound friendships that would not have been possible without a mutual language. Although I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of language acquisition, for me the end goal is always to connect with people.
6. Some people say the world is really going to have just a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
I definitely think that there will be a few “big” languages for global commerce, law and news. But, language is so integral to peoples’ identities I think people will safeguard languages to pass on to their children as a means of cultural preservation.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Take advantage of Internet videos, in-person language exchange groups, online language teachers and your community’s resources. The world is your oyster!