In every good language teacher, there is an enthusiastic language learner.

I hope that is true! In some of us there are learners of many additional languages and masters of none. Though English is the only language that I use at a professional level, I have studied languages in three different language families and learned to write in four alphabets. Three alphabets and an abjad, if you want to get technical.

My language learning began in high school – typical for Americans, very late for the rest of the world – but since then I have been an enthusiastic, omnivorous connoisseur of language learning – and a joyful participant in cross-linguistic conversations in many different settings, with varying degrees of fluency and success. Today I read and write four alphabets (Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, and IPA) and can explain (sometimes comprehensibly, even) the ten potential forms of an Arabic verb and the 42 potential forms of a Czech adjective, but I generally stick to English for professional purposes. This is an overview of my language learning history, in reverse chronological order.


Ahlan wa sahlan to the hardest language I have studied. I began studying Arabic in order to understand what the young learners in the research that has become my dissertation work were going through. After a year learning along with them and meeting with a tutor, I spent an intensive summer and a more leisurely fall learning the basics of Modern Standard Arabic, and recently started working on a bit of Lebanese dialect. So many semesters, and so little communicative competence – which is a frequent outcome, unfortunately. One of the major pedagogical challenges of Arabic in the U.S. is not only increasing communicative competence but actually determining what that means in multiple varieties of Arabic.


Govorim po vaši. I always struggle with saying that I speak Serbian – partly because I still need a lot of work, but more importantly because it sounds like I am taking an ideological position against Croatian and Bosnian. I studied in Valjevo at an intensive workshop run by Belgrade University and later in Belgrade, where I traded Serbian and English with the director of the workshop for a few months and lived with a wonderfully patient woman who spoke no English. I would be glad to live, work, travel, or socialize in Zagreb or Sarajevo as well, however.


Chcete mluvit česky? I started learning Czech when I moved to the Czech Republic – or, to be more precise, in a very brief training in California that provided just enough language to help me and my roommates obtain our first meal in the country. In an effort to avoid starvation as the year continued, I took lessons provided by my language school, wore the spine out of a pocket dictionary, and used almost every available textbook for learners of Czech as a foreign language. Later I traded English and Czech with a university colleague. It was adulterated immersion – considering that I was there as an English teacher – but it was an intense learning process for over three years.


Pourquoi pas? I studied French for four years in high school and three semesters in college. I loved French and still do, but I am sorely in need of a long sojourn in a French-speaking environment to bring my proficiency off the page and to life.

OthersI have also studied a bit of Russian and Spanish, and as much as I would like to move on to Turkish or Persian, I will likely return to one of these in the future.