When Language Learning Finds YOU

Meet Shelby Cox, a freelance studio technician for a major television network, to find out how someone with a passion for languages finds opportunities to learn languages. Turns out, language learning opportunities found her.
BGLL: What made you start learning languages?

Shelby: I have always been surrounded with opportunities for language learning. In elementary school, we had a music teacher who taught us Swahili songs one of them I still remember and it was actually very helpful for my trip to Tanzania. Also in elementary school, there was a guy who came in a couple times a week or month I'm not sure but his name was Guido and he had these Muzzy tapes and taught us Italian. I also always had neighbors from this place or that place and other students in class so I was always curious about learning someone's native tongue even if just the basics. I started learning Spanish in middle school with just people speaking to me in Spanish and then in High School, I took my first class in it as well as taking an Italian class. I learned Portuguese mostly by training capoeira and knowledge of Spanish helped and then Duolingo helped a lot as well.

BGLL: Which languages have you learned so far?

Shelby: I’ve learned Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Swahili, Italian, Swedish, and French so far.

BGLL: How did you or do you use them?

Shelby: Spanish is my 2nd language and Portuguese is my 3rd and I use these two the most. I have a working knowledge of Swedish which I plan to use when I visit Stockholm one day but I do practice with some friends from there online and practiced in person guiding a friend's parents around Washington, DC. I also have knowledge of Italian and Swahili which were used in my travels, Swahili in Tanzania and Italian in Italy. I also know some Amharic and plan to use that knowledge in Ethiopia one day. I also know some French which I started to learn so that I could learn Louisiana Creole too. My little knowledge of French has come in handy when I met some capoeira students from the Congo when I was in Brazil and they didn't know any English or Portuguese. Portuguese also has come in handy a lot in Brazil of course, I have been twice and planning on going again for my 3rd time later this summer.

BGLL: What are your favorite foreign languages and why?

Shelby: Spanish used to be my favorite because I knew I had ancestors who spoke it and wanted to learn myself and it was a sort of way to connect to the different cultures but now I get super excited about speaking Brazilian Portuguese especially the words that come from some of Brazil’s indigenous groups, like abacaxi it means pineapple and it's just a really cool word to me, I can't really say why, it is just cool to me. It sounds cool and is fun to say. I like the way Brazilian Portuguese sounds especially in Rio where the d's all sound like j's. I like waking up and saying bom dia (jee-ah). Maybe it is because I know so many Brazilians through capoeira that it has just become a familiar thing and that's why I love it so much.

BGLL: What is the most important thing you think helped you with learning languages?

Immerse yourself any way you can, always try to practice because you can lose it, and get out of your comfort zone a little bit. I like to immerse myself by making sure that no English is spoken to me and I like to set my Facebook to whatever language I am trying to focus on the most and will set my email up the same way and my phone and try to read my news that way and just everything, it really helps.

BGLL: How can we catch up with you on social media?

Shelby: You can find me on Instagram: @macambira_abada



  1. Hats off!!! I get told ever so often that I should not speak English with the Mr as it can hinder my language learning ability which is not actually a lie. But I'm with her on setting things to the focus language. All of my phone apps are auf deutsch, I watch series with German subtles which helps me learn how to build sentences with words I know or just learned.

  2. These are really great post. I would share this article at https://qanda.typicalstudent.org/ with the students, hope they can be get helped by it. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. I too am a studio technician. I also speak spanish, portuguese and am learning italian. Good to see black ladies making strides in this journey!!!


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