For this first comeback post of “Share Your Feat” I present to you Clara, whose feat I consider to be one of a kind. A multilingual. She shares with me on her running away to France a few tips for when visiting a new country and how a cross wiring happens in her brain sometimes because she speaks 5 languages and counting. Yes, you read that correctly, five languages.
I consider knowing more than one language a huge feat. Inspirational even. When did you decide to learn a new language let alone a couple more?
So did I actually. Many years ago as a primary school child in Nigeria, my uncle was trying to learn French from a book. I became interested and started copying him. I didn’t get anywhere of course but I loved the feeling of having this “code” language. Around the same time I became very interested in learning to speak and more importantly read Yoruba, I discovered my grandma’s Yoruba bible and hymn book and began to devour them. I also discovered the D.O. Fagunwa books and fell in love with the epic adventures of the main character, a hunter travelling through dangerous demon-filled territories. As you can see, I acquired the skills of autodidactic language learning quite early on, an advantage that Nigerian children have because we’re a multilingual country, which means our brains can process language learning early. Once I got to secondary school though, I joined the cool crowd and stopped learning both languages, that is until I had my midlife crisis and decided to run away to Paris at the age of 27.
You ran away to Paris? Whaaaat?
Yes. I felt the routine of my life had become tedious so I decided on a career change. I applied to do medicine and health visiting but neither option worked out (thankfully!). For medicine I passed the tests but fell at the interview hurdle and for health visiting, I got through until the funding stage where they decided to choose someone with more experience. Imagine how sad I was when I found myself back at square one. One day like that sha, the despair became unbearable and that’s how I gave my notice and booked myself a 2week holiday to Paris to try to clear my head. I got there spent 10days and decided to stay, imagine my parents’ reaction. Finding out that their child who studied Chemical Engineering, switched to nursing (an idea they were only finally just getting used to) had just quit her job and decided to go live in Paris without knowing a word of the language.
I stood my ground and at the end of my holiday I went home to England to pack up my life, bought a one way ticket back to Paris, and the rest as you know is (happy) history.
So picking up language again was born out of necessity or curiosity?
Well, I had to learn French in order to fully integrate when I moved i.e. work/live/develop friendships. Once I realised how easy it was to learn one new language, I decided to learn another, German. Then another, Italian. At the moment I speak 5 languages in total.
Impressive!!! There must be a feeling that the rest of us are exempt from when you are multilingual?
Yes, the feeling of being part of a secret society. Also people assume you are smart ☺
Roughly, how long does a new language take to learn?
Honestly, it depends on your commitment and the resources you have. I learnt French in just 3months, but that’s because I was living in the country and immersed in the language. I was also very motivated because I knew I needed to speak the language if I wanted to work as a nurse.
German took me 8months because I wasn’t living in a German speaking country and it was hard to find resources as well as immerse myself in the language. I however had given myself the goal of taking the exams and getting the minimum level required by German universities for students wanting to study in German. This kept me motivated because I did not want to fail and waste the 175€ I paid to take the exams.
Italian has taken me 3 years so far and even though I can communicate relatively well, it is still my weakest language. I have been lazy with it because I have no motivating factors and didn’t set myself any specific goals. Now though I have decided that by December next year I will have my certificate.
So can we call it a relatively easy venture then?
Again it depends on your commitment and the resources you have. It is easy to learn a language if you’re motivated and can immerse yourself somehow in it. Of course immersion doesn’t only mean living in the country, it can also be disciplining yourself to read/listen/write/speak your target language every day. Since I couldn’t live in a German speaking country, I got myself a language partner and we met once a week to speak both languages. I also decided to listen to radio/watch TV/read only in German. It was hard in the beginning but obviously successful,
What’s the best thing about learning a new language?
Going from not understanding a word to suddenly being able to follow conversations is an amazing feeling. And the first time you have an argument or heated discussion and you suddenly realise you were so riled up that you spoke continuously and coherently for 1hour at a go, EXHILIRATING!
Speaking about following conversation, I’m guessing knowing all these languages up’s the gbeborun ante? I will totally listen in on people’s conversations if I spoke all those languages. Do you?
O.M.G. I am the queen of gbeboruns! I enjoy listening to people’s conversations in one of my languages and love being able to talk “incognito” in a language they don’t understand. My sister and I were the queens of this in Paris, we would speak Yoruba whenever we were around weird/scary looking people in the metro.
So, a multilingual nurse. Aren’t your patients so lucky ?
Honestly it’s been more beneficial for me more than for my patients. I feel like I have gotten better positions because of the extra languages. At the moment I work as a clinical research nurse for an American pharmaceutical company and I feel like I get good opportunities because of my language skills. It also makes it easy for me to communicate with volunteers who come from all over Europe. The few times I have been able to use my language skills (e.g translating) to help out either a patient or the nurse looking after them has been very rewarding though.
Your best country to visit?
Nigeria, because it is the only place I feel both completely at home and completely foreign. So much is familiar and yet so much remains alien, it frustrates and excites me in equal measures.
Any tips for when visiting a country whose language one does not speak?
Smile a lot, learn a few of the most basic words and USE them. I did my elective placement as a student nurse in Bangladesh and I was able to get through even the most technical nursing acts with patients, by using a mixture of gestures, smiles and the few words I had learnt.
Are you always tempted to want to speak to someone in a language you know they don’t understand, just so you can mess with them a bit?
Yes, I sometimes curse out my poor boyfriend in Yoruba or Italian (facepalm). A funny thing that sometimes happens to me is the cross-wiring that occurs in my brain. I start speaking to a colleague/family member in French or English, and suddenly realise that they’re looking at me strangely because I’ve switched to Yoruba or French or even once Swedish! I learnt it during my study abroad program and have forgotten almost everything, but my brain sometimes short-circuits and Swedish comes out 😉
Do you want kids, and how many languages do you think you may get them to possibly learn?
YES! They will certainly speak English, German and Yoruba (mine and my boyfriend’s first languages), but I’ld also like them to speak French and Dutch especially if we stay here in Brussels. Belgium is a trilingual country and speaking all three languages will open more doors for them.
You are not of the opinion that Chinese is the language to learn now seeing as China is taking over the world?
I’m not sure how I feel about this to be honest. I am pragmatic and believe one should move with the times, at the same time, I know from experience that it is not enough to be motivated by future possibilities. One must also have an emotional connection to the target language.
What is your favourite foreign thing to say?
It changes regularly, but my current favourite word is “Scheiße! which means shit in German. My life is in flux with lots of exciting and scary changes over the next few months, so I’m using this word a lot at the moment.
Would you rather travel and be broke or stay home and have lots of savings?
Broke nomad here, definitely!
What do you do when you are not busy learning a language?
I love sleeping, reading, watching documentaries and cooking. I recently discovered my creativity in the kitchen and I am really enjoying experimenting and crafting new healthy recipes.
Ah true, I have observed from your Instagram that you take healthy eating very seriously. How is it you never have cheat days? Sigh.
Its a lie o, not only do I have cheat days, I have cheat weeks sef! I dont think of them as cheat days though, as I am not at all obsessive about eating healthy. When I’m in my own home, my default setting is healthy living (so eating and exercise), but on holidays, abroad or even just going out with friends, I will eat “junk” food without any sense of guilt. To me, balance is key.
What language do you consider the sexiest (out of the ones you speak)
What’s your preference – subtitled movies or non-subtitled.
Non-subtitled. I personally find subtitles distracting, besides they make me lazy and stop me from training my ears and practising my listening comprehension.
What’s one word that is obviously recurrent or sounds slightly alike in all the languages you speak?
Maman (French), mama (Yoruba), mama (Italian), mama (German) and of course mum in English.
How do you pray, especially prayers where you are probably upset at God?
I pray in English, unless I’m in a church where a different language is spoken. English is my first language and remains my go-to-language.
Please write a sentence for my readers in a foreign language. Let’s leave them guessing.
Am Donnerstag fang ich an mit meinem Studium und ich freue mich total darauf!
How do you think being multilingual has distinguished you or made you different from others?
I used to think bilinguals were geniuses! Since becoming multilingual I have realised that this is just a myth, and one that needs to be debunked. Even though I wish it were the case, I sadly cannot lay any claim to being specially gifted, however, the whole process of learning has taught me that no language and indeed nothing is impossible if I put my mind to it!
(That actually is the key essence of doing the “share your feat” series. Letting people know that anything they want to do can be done.) So thanks for inspiring us.
No thank you for giving me a platform where I can talk about something I am passionate about!
p.s If you know anyone who will like to share their inspiring feat on anything, anything at all please send me an email. You can read here and here to get a sense of who can share their feat on my blog.
I hope this has inspired you to go on and get what you want. Let me know in the comments.
Also if you think you want to try and decode the foreign sentence, give it a try in the comments 😉