Meet Kari, a student at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies. She traveled to three countries to learn three different languages and even created an interview project on Blackness while in Brazil. Read more about Kari and what helped her become fluent in three languages.

BGLL: Thanks for sharing your language learning journey with us. Tell us more about you.

Kari: My name is Kari Hill and I’m a student at UNC Chapel Hill. I’m majoring in African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies. I am also an oral history intern at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center in Chapel Hill, NC. I speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and am learning Lingala.

BGLL: What made you learn those languages? How did you learn them?

Kari: Mostly in school, however I studied abroad for a year in both Spain and France while in high school. I studied in Spain independently with an exchange program and in France with a program called School Year Abroad.

With Spanish, I believe the learning happened through immersion. I was a decent language student in middle school and I practiced Spanish with an auntie from Honduras. When I was 13, I studied in Spain for a summer for a month and I was enrolled in language classes and lived with a host family. After that month I might not have learned much more Spanish-- I may have picked up a few new slang words. But, after the month I felt like everything I had ever learned was all fresh in my mind and conjugating verbs or translating vocab words came naturally. I went to Spain again after the 8th grade for a yearlong program. Since I was so young my dad accompanied me on the flight. After he met my host family and helped me set up for school, he dropped me off to live with a host family by myself. I was shortly immersed in a Spanish school and I think being forced into the environment is really how I learned the language. At school, I had no idea what the teacher was saying for a good couple of months. I would doodle in my journal as the teacher spoke.

I spent every weekend with the same group of friends. I walked to and from school with them and every day I would come home for lunch and have meals with my host family prepared by my host mother. I would spend nights speaking with my host mom and doing homework. Weekends were spent with the host family and friends and after a while I started catching on and I was able to fully attend high school in Spain without any problems. I passed all of my classes and made incredible friendships-- I’m very thankful for that.

After returning to the US, I started taking French classes in high school. I took two years of French and then learned that my school had newly partnered with a program called School Year Abroad. I applied and lived in Western France (Brittany) for a year and attended an American school. A lot of the language learning happened with my host family, in the school (the classes were in French) and in the after school programs I attended (Gospel Choir & Theater). I also had an awesome art history class on French art! We would take field trip and travel all throughout France to see the art we were learning about in the classroom right before our eyes.

I began studying Portuguese in college and last summer traveled to Salvador, Brazil on a grant. While I was there, I created an interview project on blackness in Brazil. I had such a healing, transformative, and melanated experience!


BGLL: Do you still use those languages?

Kari: I use different languages in everyday interactions and to keep in touch with friends. I love reading, traveling, visual art, and music-- learning languages gives me the access to engage with the world outside of an anglophone lens.


BGLL: Which language is your favorite?

Kari: Spanish because I am the most fluent in that language and can express myself more fully. My favorite language also really depends on the situation and my mood.


BGLL: What are some things you think would help others learning languages?

Kari: If there are classes being taught in your area for the language you want to learn, sign up for them! Or, if you know of anyone in your area who speaks the language you want to learn-- ask them about the possibility of meeting regularly for language practice! What helped me with Portuguese, is using a language app called “hello talk” and you can have language exchanges with people from all over the world in the target language that you are learning. When it comes to language learning, the most effective way to do it is to do it. If you can afford it, I recommend getting a plane ticket and enrolling in a language school somewhere, staying with a host family in a non-touristy location so that there aren’t a lot of English speakers around, and just really committing to immersing yourself.

Another thing I’ve been doing is following a lot of different blogs. I’m particularly interested in Black feminism so I follow Black feminist blogs and people on social media in different countries. So that can be an awesome thing too--just get immersed in a language through paying attention to different things that you are already interested in. I also love listening to Brazilian music.

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