Many think learning one language is hard enough, but junior computer science major Ahmad Masalha, of Dabburiya, Israel, knows seven. Masalha said he wishes more people knew multiple languages so they could all practice new languages together.
As an exchange student with the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Masalha discovered his interest in learning languages during his first semester in college at Israel’s ORT Braude College of Engineering.
“In my college, we study in Hebrew, but I also speak Arabic,” Masalha said. “When I got bored, I would listen to my professor’s words and just start analyzing them, and finding a huge similarity between Arabic and Hebrew through random words was fascinating to me, and that’s how it started.”
From then on, Masalha began expanding his knowledge of different languages through Googling, listening to music, reading and using language learning apps. Currently, he knows Arabic, Hebrew, English, German, French, Persian and Aramaic.
Through studying various languages, Masalha said he learned different ways to look at life.
“Different cultures emphasize different things; they value different things, so the more languages you speak, you have different perspectives on life,” he said. “So when I’m learning a new language, I’m not only learning different vocabulary and grammar; I’m also learning a new way to look at life. The more languages I speak, the easier it is for me to relate and connect with the speakers of that language.”
Masalha said a key to this insight is how different languages will place emphasis on other components of a sentence, revealing more about the culture beyond the structure of its language.
“For example, let’s say I missed the bus,” Masalha said. “In English, I would say ‘I missed the bus;’ it’s putting more emphasis or blame on oneself. Whereas in Arabic, the same expression would be ‘the bus missed me,’ putting more blame on the bus itself.”
As an exchange student, Masalha is only at SIUE for this semester. Once the school year concludes, he will return to his home college.
According to Masalha, his time in the U.S. has provided him the opportunity to practice his many languages with other speakers, something he did not get to do as often at his home university.
“When I got to SIUE, I met people from different backgrounds, like German people, French people and people from other countries from the languages that I speak, so I got to practice some of my languages with them,” Masalha said. “I didn’t get this opportunity back home because we didn’t have many foreign students.”