When William speaks about languages, his whole being lights up. He is positive and speaks with passion and energy. It’s not about how many languages, how fluent you are, or how many vocabulary words or grammar rules you know when it comes to learning and speaking different languages. William identifies with languages for a variety of reasons and differently in different circumstances. Some ideas and feelings are easier to express in one language or another and directly translating isn’t always enough. William speaks about a multi-lingual lifestyle and communication style that he works diligently to cultivate.
Strong language skills, in depth and in breadth, is a gift and a curse. Jumping into conversations as a savior can be interpreted as presumptuous and arrogant. Not jumping in to help people who are obviously struggling to communicate when you have skills to help can be seen as rude. Take an experience William shares about a time he was in a pet store along the Seine River in Paris. A man was trying to purchase a Pomeranian. He was asking all the typical questions about what to feed the dog, if it had shots, etc. He was speaking Mandarin. The shop owner was also trying to ask typical questions of a customer: what kind of dog do you want, where will you be living with the dog, etc. He was speaking French. It wasn’t until one of them asked directly for William’s help that he felt he could jump in and interpret. Without that invitation into the conversation, William says he would have respected each individual and his role as bystander to their interaction.
That level of self-awareness and sensitivity is something William has developed from experience and reflection. What is his place and role as someone passionate about languages and helping people? Language is so entangled in identity, you never know the background or circumstances of an interaction or how exactly people feel about what you are witnessing. William, who has been keenly observant since he was young, is aware of his place and how it may be interpreted by others.
For William, language enriches life. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to studying languages, as long as you put in the energy to achieve a level of language ability that suits your personal needs. For William, he says he achieves ‘fluency’ when the language becomes his, when it becomes rooted in his being. That happens at different times and different speeds but is evident when a language takes on a depth of emotion and feeling and William can be innovative in his speech.
For William, language learning is an equation. Time spent learning the language multiplied by motivation to learn over inhibition in the learning process equals your result. So keep speaking, keep reflecting, and keep connecting.