Discovering Language With LeDonna Jackson





I was lucky enough to meet up with LeDonna this summer while she was visiting New York City and learn more about her language story and how she got started on her blog Discovering Language. One of the things that jumped out at me was that just as she was about to give up on learning German, she found out she was awarded a scholarship to for an exchange trip to Germany! Read more to find out where else languages have taken her.
BGLL: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story! Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

LeDonna:: I’m LeDonna Jackson and I’m a black Chicago area native. I have a B.A. in Foreign Language: Modern Concentration (German), I’m TEFL Certified as well as a certified Neurolanguage© coach.

I’ve also created a blog called Discovering Language that I started on a whim because I was stressed and just wanted to talk about things that didn’t make me want to smash my face into the nearest brick wall. I learned pretty late in the game that I was good at this whole language thing, but having the blog opened me up to a ton of opportunities as well as putting me in contact with some of the most amazing people. I mean I feel like I’m actually pretty boring? I mean, I’m a SUPER introvert but no one ever believes me. But, I’m glad I took the leap!

BGLL: Which language is your native language? Which other languages do you know? How do you use them?

LeDonna: English. Nothin’ fancy. I usually say that I only know two languages, with German being the second one. Right now, I’m focusing on passing the proficiency exams for Korean (TOPIK I) and German (C1). I’ve studied Mandarin, French, Japanese, Spanish, and Esperanto to varying degrees.

In my daily work I almost never used any of my languages and it drove me up the wall to be honest. I would love to use my German as a translator, possibly adding a couple others down the line. As a language coach, I offer one-on-one sessions with intermediate to advanced learners who need to kick their English up a notch. I want to help people who feel like they can’t learn a language because they don’t know where to start.

BGLL: How did you learn the other languages?

LeDonna: My first contact with language was when I was in elementary school. My mom randomly bought a book for learning Swahili when I was about 6 or 7 because I loved to read. After reading, I thought it was cool to be able to say things that other people couldn’t necessarily understand.

Also, during my teen years, anime was huge, and I loved Sailor Moon and wanted to learn Japanese. I was fortunate enough to learn Japanese in school along with German, Mandarin, and French, with my degree major being in German. I wasn’t interested in Esperanto until I went to my first polyglot event. It seemed like everyone could speak it and I was getting really curious. After the third or fourth person telling me how easy it is, I just had to try it out. I found it’s not as easy for me as it may have been for others, but that’s because I don’t have a solid background in any of the romance languages.

The funny think about Korean, is that I accidentally found the local Korean channel and watched a documentary. I fell in love with the way it sounded. I’m currently working on reaching the intermediate level. Dutch was also an accident. I was watching some Buzzfeed-esque video and was confused about why I could understand a lot of what I was hearing (Dutch and German are both West-Germanic languages). It piqued my interest and I’m currently trying to learn more Dutch.

BGLL: What opportunities were you able to take advantage of because of your languages?

LeDonna: I was awarded a scholarship to go on an exchange trip to Germany during the summer in between sophomore and junior year in high school. I was excited because it was the first time I left the state of Illinois. During the trip, we stayed with a host family and went to the German school with students in the host family and got to see what German school was like. We visited major cities like German like Munich, Hamburg, Berlin and even spent 3 days in Italy. It improved my German comprehension so much!

I also was able to get a job with a German company because of my language skill. Having knowledge of the German culture and language helped me go from temp to permanent. It helps that my coworkers could come to me and have me translate things. 

BGLL: Out of all of the languages you learned, which one is your favorite and why?

LeDonna: Definitely German. I say all the time that German is my baby because it’s the first foreign language I’ve learned to a working proficiency. I love everything about it: how it looks, how it sounds, absolutely everything. I know the general consensus is that it’s angry but I think it’s absolutely beautiful.

BGLL:  What are three tips you can offer those who are trying to learn the languages you know?

LeDonnaDon’t compare yourself to others. I still struggle with this to be honest. But you have to remember that your why is different from someone else’s. The moment you center your language learning on trying to get to where another person is, you’re going to be stuck in the struggle. Do it because you love it.

Don’t be a perfectionist. You’re going to make mistakes. Trust that 99% of the time the people you’re working with don’t care, especially if they’re natives. The only way you’re really going to learn is to have your mistakes corrected consistently, so don’t take it personal.

Don’t let anybody tell you what you should or should not be studying. I don’t care if Spanish is more common where you are, if you want to learn Maori, do it. Seriously, don’t study something just because other people tell you should. I once had someone ask me why in hell I would learn Korean and I told him it was because I wanted to. The person next to him then asked me where I was ever going to use Korean. I told him in Korea. Live ya life!
Side note: I actually struggle with all of these!

BGLL: I think we all have our moments where we have to give our own selves a gentle reminder to live our best lives. How can we get in contact with you and keep up with you in the language community on social?

LeDonna: My website is: http://www.discoveringlanguage.com, on Instagram I am @discoveringlanguage.and I can be found on Twitter @discoveringlang.

CONVERSATION

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