Introduction: Meet Aryn. She is a self-described polyglot with an everlasting wanderlust. Her childhood passion for the world came into fruition once she got the opportunity to study abroad then ultimately a chance to take an internship in China. Soon thereafter, she began to write. She currently resides in Hawaii where she continues to pursue her travel passions. Without further ado, I present you with Aryn of Driftwood and Daydreams as the first of my series on Interviews with Linguists. Stay tuned for future interviews with language lovers and localization professionals.
1. Please introduce yourself.
– Hello, I’m Aryn! Besides travel, my interests include photography and fashion. I’m from small town Ohio but to date I’ve traveled to 17 foreign countries. Hopefully I’ll be adding more to that list soon!
2. What languages do you speak and to what capacity?
I can technically speak 5 languages (including my native English) but all to varying degrees. It’s hard to say how proficient I am in any language since I always seem to underestimate my ability. People sometimes ask me if I’m a native speaker which shocks me because I still feel like I have so much to learn.
I’d consider myself fluent in French as I’ve been studying it since I was 13 years old and even spent my sophomore year of college in France. Next I’d say I’m most comfortable speaking Chinese, then Japanese, then Spanish.
Haggling in China
3. Define communication. How do you think it applies?
I think communication is simply getting an idea to be understood by another person. When I was in China, I had only taken two semesters of Chinese but I was able to communicate just fine. Even my colleagues who had never studied Chinese were able to get by. Body language and a friendly disposition is really all you need to communicate in any country.
4. How would you define language?
I’d say language is the same as my definition for communication except with more rules and structure. Instead of just being able to say any sound, there’s one specific combination of sounds that conveys my idea.
5. What is your approach to linguistics?
My approach to linguistics is as unacademic as it can get. I’m not so interested in which part of the brain computes language; I’m more intrigued by how people actually use language in their lives and how words can have nuanced meaning due to personal perception.
6. Is having the ability to speak other languages a hobby for you or is it something that you use professionally? Maybe both?
I think studying languages started out as a hobby. It was just something I liked to do. Though I didn’t really have a career in mind, I decided to major in French and East Asian Languages in college because I thought those would be studies that I would enjoy for four years. I figured I could always sort out a job later once I had a degree.
Something I didn’t consider when studying a foreign language was the fact that my location would play such a big role in where I could find a job. For my friends that had majored in business, they were finding jobs just down the road from our university. But for me, there wasn’t much demand for Japanese, Chinese, or French in Ohio. I tried moving to Colorado since that was a place I always loved but, again, there was just no demand out there. For a while it seemed like my only options were to move abroad and teach English or to try and make it work in the incredibly expensive cities like New York or San Francisco.
Recently I’ve relocated to Hawaii which had never crossed my radar as an option until my brother (who already lives out here) suggested that my Japanese skills would be in high demand. And he was right! I got a job instantly upon moving to Honolulu. Right now this job doesn’t use my language skills so much but I’m looking to help our company expand our Asian department. Hopefully I’ll soon be guiding tours in Chinese!
Visiting the Louvre while studying abroad in France
7. How has being able to communicate in other languages influenced your life?
Studying foreign languages has probably been one of the biggest influences on the direction of my life, actually. It led me to living in France for a year, working in China for a summer, and now moving to Hawaii.
Besides my physical location, I think knowing a foreign language has really affected my understanding of people and my view of the world. Before I studied Japanese, all I knew about Japan was anime, harajuku fashion, and J-pop. However, once I began to learn the language, I also began to learn about the country, their history, and the people became so much more real. That sense of otherness was gone and now I find myself connecting with people of all cultures easily. Being able to communicate in other languages has really made me become a global citizen.
8. Do you think that there is such a thing as a hard language to learn?
In a sense, yes, I think some languages are harder than others but not because of the language itself. Take Japanese for example; it’s known as being one of the hardest languages to learn for an English speaker and, as someone who’s studied the language for 5 years, I’d definitely agree.
However, if you break down the grammar of Japanese and actually look at its structure, it’s not all that complicated. I remember when I took a Japanese Linguistics course all I could think was ‘why isn’t my Japanese language class taught like this?’. It felt like the language courses I took in university simply focused on memorizing grammar points and being able to repeat them instead of looking at the underlying why which would have given so much more context.
Walking in Stockholm
9. Which language would you really like to speak, but do not currently. If you were to begin studying that language today, how would you start?
I have a strange obsession with Scandinavia, especially Sweden. In the past I tried to teach myself some Swedish just for fun but college got in the way.
Now that I’ve graduated I think I’d really like to pick it up again. The way I was teaching myself seemed to be working very nicely and I was catching on pretty fast. I used a combination of listening (there are free lessons for just about any language on Youtube) and reading (free from the library!)
Part of my Senior Thesis
10. Is there a topic in linguistics that fascinates you most? If so, which is it?
I’m most intrigued by translation. In fact, for my senior thesis I translated the comics of Diglee from French to English. I’m such a nerd but this was probably the most fun I had in my entire college career. There were some points when the translation was obvious but other times I would ponder for upwards of an hour on how to translate just one word. I really wanted to make sure I captured all the nuances and expressed the same ideas in English as she was trying to communicate in the original French.
11. Closing remarks; feel free to add anything you feel necessary.
I’ve actually written an entire post before on how to study a foreign language but I’ll sum it up here: stop thinking of foreign languages as foreign. Once you get over that road block, learning becomes so much easier.
This has been an interview in the series Interviews with Linguists. Read all of them here!
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