Interview with Ellen Jovin.

Aug 1, 2016 3:00:00 PM / by Melanie Moore


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Here at Mango Languages, one of our core values is fundipline. Essentially, it's about enjoying the journey to greatness. In the case of polyglots, there is no one who embodies this value more than one of the organizers of the NYC Polyglot Conference, Ellen Jovin.

We’ll explain why in a minute, but if you’re dying to know, you can listen along with the full interview at the bottom of the post. First, we’ll explore her humble polyglot beginnings.

The makings of a polyglot.

Ellen Jovin grew up in Germany and attended her first two years of primary school there, where she learned and spoke German on a regular basis. Her family moved to Los Angeles and later, she moved to New York City to begin her writing career. So, she has had plenty of opportunities to speak with others in large, multicultural cities.

At university, she majored in German and grew up speaking a lot of Spanish when she lived in California. Once she graduated college, she found herself using only English, but she was able to maintain her Spanish because the language can be heard everywhere in New York City.  From 1990 to 2009 she focused on improving her English writing skills for her career. Although she was using a couple of her languages, she did not consider herself an active language learner or even polyglot. However, she still had a love of language and culture that permeated nearly every aspect of her life.

In 2009, Ellen decided, “Hey, I’m gonna try this again.” That is, she decided to start learning another language like she had in college. Russian seemed interesting to her, so she began to study the language every day for two months. She was hooked. Soon after, Ellen wanted to “take a tour” of several different languages and started studying Italian, then Chinese, then moved on to learn Slavic languages, Romance languages, and many more. You can check out Ellen’s blog which includes her language-learning schedule of all the languages she’s studied since 2009. When she learns languages, her goal is to see how far she can get in the language in a fixed amount of time. 

Ellen and her husband run a business teaching English communication skills to business leaders. Many of her clients are not native English speakers themselves, so even when she's not learning languages, she is interacting with people who speak various languages on a daily basis. “When I am teaching people who don’t have the same affection, communication skills, grammar, etc., I try to show them how [language] is such an integral part of our life.”  Another part of her New York experience is that she volunteers for a program called Big Apple Greeters, where she shows new families around different neighborhoods and welcomes them to the city.

A day in the life.

A typical day in Ellen’s NYC polyglot life begins with a cup of coffee. “I could make coffee at home,” she says, “but because I work at home, I want to be out in the world.” When she boots up her computer, she starts posting all over Facebook on various polyglot groups. Because she works with the English language, she often comes across conundrums that she has or that her clients ask her about. That’s why you often see her ask a question about an English word, grammar point, etc. on social media .

On the walk over to the shop, she often listens to audio lessons. For Ellen, "audio lessons are the staple of how to fit language learning into my life." At the end of the day, she lulls herself to sleep with a quality audio lesson in the language that she's studying. She also loves dissecting the grammar of a language. In fact, she told us that she does not travel anywhere without a grammar book in her bag. “Grammar is therapy for the uptight and stressed out.” In essence, Ellen has designed her life to fit around language learning — or she's designed language learning to fit around her life.

How language learning changes lives.

It has been said that when you speak a different language, you become a different person. The same could be said in Ellen’s case. However, she does not feel that certain languages “change her personality” as some language learners claim. Rather, she feels much more energized, younger, and full of life when she learns languages. Ellen explains, "in adult life, it is not really encouraged for you to keep making mistakes and doing things incorrectly. However, language learning gives you that possibility." Ellen is saying that with language learning, she’s able to make mistakes as an adult, just as a young child who is learning a language will make mistakes when they first start learning. In essence, language learning gives you the possibility to be a kid again — or at least learn like one. You may have heard that there is evidence that learning another language can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Turns out, it’s not only theoretical. According to Ellen, you will feel the effects!

Ellen absolutely loves what the polyglot movement has done for teenagers. There are some language learners who feel alone in the world because their love for languages is not reciprocated by anyone around them. However, when they find this community online full of other passionate language learners, they may feel like they have a place in the world; they are among “their people.” Ellen sees young polyglots speaking to one another in multiple languages on the Internet and they switch between languages — it’s like an explosion of youthful, linguistic energy.

Another cool thing that the Internet has allowed is that you can read almost anything online. “There’s something particularly exciting about getting access to news from a small fishing village in Vietnam.” For Ellen, who has lived in big cities all of her life, it is really interesting to get a peek into small town life — especially small-town life in another country.

Her most proudest achievement with language is when she vowed to study Italian for three months and then took a proficiency test. She received the same score on this exam as she did when she took the same exam for the German language — and that was the language she majored in in college! This was her grandest achievement in terms of quick acquisition.

Ellen gave a talk at the Berlin Polyglot Gathering entitled, “The Philosophy of Polyglottery”, where she went through and outlined the various polyglot archetypes that she has noticed on the Internet, a place that she often frequents. For example, there’s the two-timing polyglot whose thought process might be, “I promised to study Spanish, but Welsh is just so H-O-T hot!” There's also the polytot who is extremely young and also extremely passionate about learning another language. You can hear about these and several other polyglot personality types from Ellen's talk at the Gathering (we'll add a link to it once it gets posted). Ellen also mentioned in her talk that the number of polyglots in the world far outnumbers the number of polyglots who attend these polyglot events. 

Ellen’s experience learning a second language (and a third, a fourth, or even a twentieth language) could also be your experience. Ellen Jovin did not start learning languages and discovering the polyglot community until she was in her 40’s. Take it from Ellen herself, “I feel younger, if that counts for something?” It sure does. Check out the interview below to experience her energy and language-learning passion.

No matter your age, health, etc., you can start learning a language today. Discover if you have access to over 70 languages for free through your local public library. Happy Learning!

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Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Melanie Moore

Written by Melanie Moore

Melanie speaks German, Lithuanian, and Japanese and has dabbled in several others. She is an aspiring polyglot and enjoys sharing her passions for language learning and music with anyone she meets.

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