Boss Moves: She Created Her Own Opportunities With Language

Meet Danielle, a dedicated professional working to address poverty and social injustice in the non-profit sector. In her side hustle, she helps primarily Black women implement success strategies in home management, personal image, and language acquisition. She has also created her own job opportunities and travels the world. Learn more about Danielle's inspiring journey and how she is making a positive impact in people's lives by reading her interview below. 

BGLL: Thank you so much for sharing your language learning journey with us. Tell us about yourself.

Danielle: My name is Danielle Custis. I reside in North Carolina, in the U.S.A. I am Black American woman and a Third Culture Kid, meaning I spent a portion or all of my formative years living in a place outside of my home culture or nation. I am an Army Brat. I moved around a lot.  

BGLLCan you tell us about your professional background?

DanielleI have a Bachelor’s in Spanish for Business and International Studies from East Carolina University. Go Pirates! I am a certified Knowledge Manager and formerly a licensed Life Insurance Agent. 

By day, I work in the non-profit space where we address the problems of poverty and social injustice in the areas of food, housing, community development, health, and financial services. In my side hustle, I help people (majority Black women) implement success strategies in three areas: home management, personal image, and language acquisition.

In my side hustle, I help people (majority Black women) implement success strategies in three areas: home management, personal image and language acquisition. 

I am an autodidact with a passion for teaching and mentoring. When I am not developing personal improvement projects, you can find me creating art, writing, cooking and being a plant mama. I am also a mama to a whole grown man. 

BGLLWhat are your proudest accomplishments in your career?

DanielleOne thing I love about my career journey is how being a polyglot has allowed me to create my own job. I have been blessed to walk into roles because the company needed someone fluent in the language alone and felt they could train me to do the rest of the duties. I have worked in multiple industries from Non-Profit, Finance, Mortgage, and Property Management to owning my own daycare and working in Insurance Sales. I am most proud of the irony that I decided not to take the foreign service exam my senior year of college, but my knowledge and understanding of diplomacy and ambassadorship have allowed me to excel in every position I have ever had in my career.

BGLLWhat is your native language and which other languages do you speak? How did you learn them?

DanielleMy native language is English, but I grew up speaking Spanish and German as well. I later  learned Portuguese, French, and Swedish as an adult. I'm currently learning Arabic. My story with languages begins at age four. I learned Spanish as a child who was practically adopted by native Spanish-speakers. I learned Spanish in the kitchen and at the table of grown folks speaking to me and around me in nothing but Spanish. I was at birthday parties and sleepovers…speaking Spanish. My best friend in my junior and senior year of high school only spoke Spanish. Her influence allowed me to level up to fluent by the time I was 17 years old. She introduced me to Playero (Old School Reggaeton). We used to watch telenovelas and Walter Mercado, when I got home from school. 

I was finally able to take Spanish as a senior in high school. I learned how to read and write in Spanish in school.  I then majored in Spanish and attended school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico for a bit.  That experience could never be duplicated. 

German was an immersive experience, too. I lived in Germany as a child and took it throughout my schooling. This is also an experience that is difficult to replicate as an adult.

I am inspired to learn a language because it touches my heart in a personal way or because I get fascinated by how it correlates to my interest in the global Black diaspora. 

BGLL: Which one is your favorite? How did/do you currently use them? 

Danielle: I am partial to Spanish and Portuguese. I am a little obsessed with the African diaspora in Latin America.

I have always used Spanish for work. It has been an added benefit to be able to open up access and ease of communication to a wider population of people by speaking French and Portuguese. For example, volunteering at the Sheriff’s Department and being able to  interpret for victims of domestic violence. 

I believe that being able to speak another person’s native language is the ultimate show of love and human connection. I have always used the languages I speak to bridge communication barriers and build relationships. 

I learned French, so that the Senegalese residents in the apartment complex I managed could feel a part of the community.  So, I learned Portuguese by getting connected with the natural hair movement in Brazil and getting some pen pals. I learned Swedish, for when I traveled to the home office of the global software company I used to work for. I want to learn Arabic because there are some people in my life, whom I love that speak Arabic. It’s a beautiful language. It’ll be the second non-Latin alphabet I learn to read, as well (I can read Cyrillic). 
BGLL: What was your hardest language struggle?

DanielleHaving patience. I want to be fluent - TODAY. However, it doesn’t work like that. 
My other struggle was breaking through acquisition plateaus ---where you get to a certain point in your learning journey, then suddenly, it feels like you’ve lost all your progress. 

Now that I am on like my 6th language, I know that plateaus are normal and are indicators of learning. I have a really good system for acquisition, which I share with my clients. The secret is to, first, have a real reason to want to learn the target language. Next, be consistent in engaging with the language, each day. Finally, create an environment as close to full  immersion as possible

BGLL: Did you ever feel shy to speak?

DanielleI have never felt shy about speaking. As a matter of fact, I usually have to stop myself from talking to someone. I learned early in my life that you learn each new language like you learned your native language. First, you sound like a baby, then a toddler, etc. We do not judge children for sounding like children. Be easy on yourself and acknowledge your fluency level and just let it out. This understanding of language acquisition was reinforced for me when I took Linguistics. There is just no way around “sounding funny.” The only way for your brain to retain the language is for you to use the language everyday. 

BGLL: If you could offer three tips for someone learning another language. What would they be?

DanielleFirst, it for a real reason. It’s the only way you’ll stick with through the “sounding funny” learning stages. Second, have a goal--are you trying to be fluent, conversational or just know how to read and write the language? Lastly, language is about communicating and engaging with real people. No matter the language, ASL or Russian --find you some people to talk to. They will be patient with you, promise. 

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

DanielleYou can find me on IG at @deecustis76
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  1. Wow, what an amazing journey.

    1. I know right! So inspiring. Got me inspired to see how I can create my own opportunities!


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