Meet Dr. Aisha Cort, multilingual Spanish lecturer at Howard University and entrepreneur who is fluent in four languages. Being multilingual has allowed her to connect with people in over 20 countries and expand her customer base. Learn more about her notable accomplishments including her features in Oprahmag.com and thegrio.com.

BGLL: Thank you so much for sharing your story and being an inspiration to so many. Tell us about who you are and what you do.

Dr. Cort: My name is Dr. Aisha Z. Cort. I currently live in Washington, D.C., but I was born and raised in Boston, MA. I am first generation Cuban and Guyanese. I have a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University, a Master’s and PhD from Emory University and am currently a Lecturer of Spanish at Howard University. I am also an entrepreneur, running a site called Hey Dr. Cort! (www.heydrcort.com). At www.heydrcort.com, users will find strategies, tips, and best practices for Spanish language learners of all levels as well as my VIVA LA LENGUA™ programs. In my VIVA LA LENGUA™ programs, I work with small groups to take them from stagnant classroom Spanish to conversationally fluent in 4 weeks. I also offer 9 different courses including courses that blend the 4-week course with cultural immersion in Spanish speaking countries such as Cuba, Mexico, Spain, and Colombia.  


BGLL: In addition to Spanish, what other languages do you speak? How did you learn them?

Dr. Cort: I currently speak Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. I am working on Dutch and Italian. I'm naturally curious and I also love to figure out how people tick. Language is one of the best ways to do that as the words, phrasing, and expressions that many use reveal so much. I also like to talk to people and travel. Spanish is my first language and the language that I luckily get to use daily in my profession. French, I learned at home and with private lessons as a child. I don't get to use it as much, but have been able to pull it out during travel and also randomly at conferences. Outside of the languages that I picked up at home and school (Spanish, English, French), I learned Portuguese because I was planning a short trip to Brazil, but when I applied for the standard 90-day visa, they gave me a 5 year one! What better reason to actually learn? I started out going through an old textbook and writing down key phrases I would need, then I started listening to shows dubbed in Portuguese and making Portuguese language playlists and recording myself speaking. Then I started visiting Portuguese businesses and shops and making small talk while I was there and also being nosy and listening for phrases that I understood. Then I went to Brazil and put myself to the test.

I'm working on Dutch and Italian because I've really enjoyed my recent travels to The Netherlands and Italy. I understand Italian very well when it is spoken to me but I would like to be able to respond fully in Italian. I’m using the same process I used for Brazil to learn Dutch and Italian. 

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

Dr. Cort: Language has provided me with access and comfort to interact with many different worlds that being monolingual may not have afforded me. For example, being able to express myself in 4 different languages allows me to interact with 4x as many people as I normally would and also provides access to different experiences. There are over 20 Spanish-speaking countries that I’ve traveled to and never think twice about visiting because language isn't a barrier. Add in French and Portuguese speaking countries and that number jumps to over 40. I’ve even lived in 3 different Spanish-speaking countries.

In the academic world, I was the first Afro-Latino PhD graduate from my graduate program. I've been teaching for over 10 years.  My research focuses on Afro-Latino and Latino film, literature, and cultural production, with a specialization in Afro-Cuban cultural production. I am the guest editor of the Fall 2020 edition of Black Camera’s Close-Up Contemporary Cuban Cinema special issue and author of the forthcoming book, Representing Race in Revolutionary Cuba: Afrocubanía, negrometraje, and cultural production 1961-1996 (SUNY Press). 

I've also been featured in Oprahmag.com (talking about my experiences growing up as an Afro-Latina in the US).

Additionally, in terms of jobs and entrepreneur collaboration, not having the barrier of language opens a ton of doors and also puts people at ease being able to converse with them in their native tongue as opposed to using a lingua franca that they may not be comfortable in. You avoid things getting lost in translation.

BGLL: Have you ever felt to intimidated to speak with natives? How did you overcome that?

Dr. Cort: I've never felt shy, but I definitely have moments where I overthink and can momentarily freeze up looking for the perfect word or phrase. I just pause and remember that no one speaks any language perfectly, and most people appreciate the fact that you are trying to speak their language well. With that in mind, it’s easy to get out of your own way and take correction that people will offer and move forward. Also, I've found that many will offer you more authentic alternatives to standard phrases. 

BGLL: What would you say is something you struggled with in language learning?

Dr. Cort: Oddly enough, learning to read and write in Spanish. I was my biggest block because I already spoke Spanish and thought I knew it all and didn't need to learn the actual structure... on top of that, I was a strong-willed teenager. 

I had to get serious with myself and make a choice. I started going to teachers for extra help, reading newspapers and magazines out loud with my mother correcting me, writing my journal entries in Spanish, and copying song lyrics in Spanish. I was 13 when I started. By the time I finished HS I had earned a 5/5 on the AP Spanish Language exam and had really developed an appreciation for all the different aspects of Spanish- the language, literature, and different cultural products. I loved it so much that I switched my major in the middle of my junior year at Yale from Biology/Pre-med to Spanish! 

BGLL: Which language is your favorite?

Dr. Cort: I am loving the challenge of learning Dutch, because I don't have many people to practice with in the States, but it is forcing me to get really creative about finding ways to keep the language in front of me. It’s frustrating, but also satisfying at the same time. I've considered dropping it for German more than once, LOL. 


BGLL: What are some things that you think could help those learning languages?

Dr. Cort: Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Remember that no one speaks any language perfectly. Find passive ways to keep the language in your ear when you don't have large blocks of time to study. As a bonus, try your best to keep your thoughts in the language that you are operating in

BGLL: How can we keep up with you on social?

Dr. Cort: Check out my website: www.heydrcort.com. I’m also on Instagram @heydrcort and @zakiyac. On Facebook Hey Dr. Cort! and Aisha Cort. On Twitter @HeyDrCort and @AishaCort.

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