Everyone has a certain way they blossom when learning languages. We all have our own language learning problems and dramas. Spring is no different. As a language connoisseur, she loves to take bits and pieces of languages and expound on them with her own way of learning language. She also expresses her musings in the form of a comic strip. Read more to find out her language learning techniques and why you don’t have to be “good at language” to be good at language.

BGLL:

Spring: My name is Spring Nicole Johnson and my native languages are English and Ebonics (I like to call it African American Pidgin. It really is a totally different language!). I have a TEFL certificate and currently work as an ESL tutor and Professional Artist. I was doing Caricature drawing for live events, but now, due to our new normal of social distancing, I am venturing into teaching art classes.

One of the things, I am most proud of is my family, because they really are great people. I have been married for 20 years and have two boys, aged 11 and 14. My 14-year-old even made up his own language, with a dictionary and phrasebook (seriously)!

BGLL: What languages do you know?

Spring: It is always hard for me to say which languages I know. That depends on what we mean by "know". I sometimes forget, myself. Because there is always an ebb and flow. I use whatever languages are useful to me at the moment, meaning what helps me to communicate with people I want to get to know in my community. Currently, the foreign languages I use are Burmese, Kayah Li and a little Haitian Creole from time to time. 

The volunteer work I do plays a big part in my reasons for learning a language. I mostly use my languages to teach people about the bible. But I also just really love the sound of words. I was an early talker and reader. I can't stand it when I hear people speaking a language I don't understand. So, if I shop somewhere often and I find a store clerk who speaks a foreign language, I usually ask how to say something in their language and, each time, I build on those phrases and maybe do some self-study. I am addicted to the reaction I get, when they hear a foreigner speak their language. I love to make people smile!

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

Spring: I have worked in bilingual customer service because I know Spanish. It also looks very good on resumes. I have gotten jobs that in which I might not have otherwise qualified because I spoke Spanish.  I have also had the opportunity to work as a Spanish medical interpreter. But what was the biggest pay off, is having friends that I would not have been able to know if I did not speak Spanish. 

BGLL: How did you learn the other languages? What made you want to learn those languages?

Spring: I didn't realize it until I started analyzing myself that I have a method. It starts when I meet a person who has an accent and I ask them what language they speak. From there, it goes just like I stated above. I ask for phrases and then go study a little if I can, and ask for more phrases. 

I am motivated by my curiosity about people. I refer to myself as a culture junkie, because I want to know about how other people from other parts of the world live, eat, dress and think. I love to mix what I have learned from different cultures (like Kimchi tacos). You would think I have travelled a lot, because I know random things about different cultures. But actually, I have never been outside of the United States!

BGLL: Did you ever feel shy to speak? How did you overcome that?

Spring: Yes! I am an introvert. My heart races many times when I approach someone to practice a language I am learning. Many times, I have shied away. But I always think about the fact that they are like me, trying to learn another language (English) and be good at it. So, they understand. I have had very few occasions where my fear has come true: The person seems indifferent and ignores my attempt to speak their language. Most of the time, they are happy to hear their own language, the language of their heart, even if it is being butchered by a foreigner. 

BGLL: What was your hardest struggle with language and how did you overcome it?

Spring: MY hardest struggle is that I am naturally undisciplined and have some ADHD tendencies. It is hard for me to sit down and study with a text book. I can study for hours, but not consistently. So, I recently decided that I am only going to study based on interactions I have with people. For example, a friend of mine who is learning Thai, wanted to get me on board too. Honestly, I tried to dive in with learning all the technical stuff, but then I asked myself, "How are you actually going to use the language?" I thought about the fact that I don't come across many Thai people where I live, so the only time I will see them is probably when I go shopping 40 minutes away where my friend lives. So, I stuck to learning a few greetings and I also learned how to say "it's delicious" (Aroy Maak). This was enough to have a positive interaction with a lady who owns the Thai store where I shop. Mission accomplished!

BGLL: Which of your foreign languages are your favorite and why?


Spring: They are like my children. How can I pick a favorite? I love them for different reasons. Ethiopian Amharic, for the rhythmic way it rolls off of the native tongue and introducing me to the eskista (shoulder dance) and some of the sweetest and most beautiful people ever!

Spanish, for the flavorful culture and cuisine (I make my own tortillas) and the simple, but dramatic way you can express things. It is also super useful in the states!

Burmese, for introducing me to a whole new world of culture, I never knew existed. People who go out of their way to show hospitality. Call each other uncle, auntie, brother and sister and greet each other by saying, "auspiciousness to you!" (Mingalaba).

Kayah Li because it is simple to learn, but you must learn from natives or no one will understand you. So, I feel like I have some sort of superpower. Also, the Kayah Li (or Karenni) people are quiet and humble people who always want to share with you. I am happy to have met a friend who speaks Burmese as her second language and she is teaching me her native Kayah Li. I feel so privileged!
French, for helping me to pronounce those fancy words that we say in English the wrong way LOL!

Haitian Creole, for being the fun and zany cousin of French. And there are no extra letters. It is strictly phonetic, which I love. Also, the Haitian people welcome you with open arms. 

Hawaii Pidgin, because it is the language that me and my family happened upon and now, we speak it at home as if it were our own language. It has many similarities with the way I spoke at home growing up.

BGLL: What’s something that language has taught you?

Spring: You don't have to be "good at languages” to learn a foreign language. I think each person can bring their own strengths to it. My strength is my love of words, rhythm and culture. Think of what your strengths are and bring that to the table to make language learning fun and totally worth it!

BGLL: What are 3 tips you can offer those who are trying to learn another language?

Spring:  Find the people first. You'll learn a lot easier and keep your motivation when you learn BECAUSE of people you want to know better. 

Also, if something is not working for you, but it works for other people, don't be afraid to abandon it. Your time is not irreplaceable and too precious to spend on methods that don't serve you well. For example, lots of people like Anki, but so far, it is not a great method for me.

Be sure to listen in your target language. I like music and I also like to watch shows that are in just about every country, like Idol, The Voice and the Got Talent franchise. Even if you don't understand, you'll hear the same words and phrases over and over and learn the rhythym of the language. 

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

Spring:  You can find my art on Instagram and Facebook @springmakesart and my language learning chronicles on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook under Nicole The Linguaphile. I also like to make comics about language learning @shespeakswhat.

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