(fun fact: we added Polish as a new language at Speak! because of Gaby’s request!)
What’s your native language? My native language is English. I’m the first person in my family for whom English is the mother tongue.
Tell us a bit about your life and work and how foreign languages have played a part? Since I’m the first person in my immediate family born in the US, I was raised with other languages, in particular German and Yiddish, in which I’m fluent. I also heard Polish and Russian at home. My parents, whose native language is German, learned English quickly because they came to the US when they were young, but my grandparents spoke English with varying degrees of competency, and they naturally spoke to me in their languages. I teach European Jewish history and culture at UVA, and for my research I have to read several foreign languages. I lived, studied, and worked in Israel for several years. I’ve been learning Hebrew since I was a kid and after so many years there my Hebrew is fluent. I travel to Europe and Israel a lot, and whenever I can, I prefer to converse with people in Hebrew, German, etc. in the first place because it’s fun for me but also because I feel so much more connected to people when I can talk to them in their native tongue.
Which languages are you studying at Speak! and why? I’m studying two languages at Speak! Dutch is one of them. I want to be able to do research in Dutch–I’ve become interested in the Jews of the Netherlands in the last few years–and since Dutch lies somewhere between English and German, it’s fun learning it. I also want visit Amsterdam! Polish is the other. I read Polish well, but I want to improve my conversational skills so that I can feel more confident in speaking when I visit Poland.
Absolutely! From week to week I note my growing facility to read and speak both Dutch and Polish.
What do you enjoy about your one-on-one courses with your Speak! instructors? Both of my instructors, Patricia and Ania, are excellent and accommodating instructors who let me set the pace. I’m very busy and don’t always have time to review as much as I would like. But they’re never judgmental, and we move at a pace that’s comfortable for me and we do things, be it speaking or reading, that I want to do on a given day. Moreover, I enjoy learning about the Netherlands and Poland, about Dutch and Polish cultures and mores, from them. Finally, they’re just extraordinarily nice people!
Do you have any advice for other scholars/professionals considering brushing up on a language later in life? Don’t succumb to conventional wisdom that it’s difficult to learn a foreign language as you get older. I believe that anyone can learn a foreign language at any age. It’s largely a question of attitude. I never want to stop learning, and I see foreign language not only as an asset in and of itself but also a portal into another world I’m curious about and want to learn more about.
If you had time to study an additional foreign language, which would you pick and why? Well, believe it or not, I’m also learning Chinese because I’ve visited China twice in the last couple of years and would like to return. China is such an important country on the world stage and I believe its global significance will only increase with time. I find Chinese fascinating from a linguistic perspective because it’s so different from all other languages I know. And I marvel at Chinese culture. The more I learn about it, the more I want to know. I also have a professional reason: I’m want to conduct research and write about Jews in China. After a few months I can begin to put sentences together in Chinese, but it seems to me that Chinese is a language that requires years of study before one can read or write Chinese characters. If I were a student in college again, I’d study Chinese.
Find out more about our one-on-one language programs here!