Ellen is a grammar freak, a former freelance writer, and a founder and principal of Syntaxis, a communication skills training firm based in New York City. She has a B.A. in German from Harvard and an M.A. in comparative literature from UCLA. Ellen lives with her husband, Brandt Johnson, in a wildly polylingual apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and can often be found walking or running around the city listening to language lessons.
I had studied German, Spanish, and French in school, but I wanted to go more global this time and add other language families. The initial plan of a year soon became two years, which eventually became three years, then four, then five, and which now stands at nearly eight years. The schedule has so far included 21 different languages involving a total of nine different alphabets and writing systems. No end in sight.
Through my blog here, I have chronicled linguistic adventures, some misadventures, and the mental and physical fallout of spending a lot of time outside one’s own alphabet and grammar. In 2013, I added a directory of learning-resource reviews for other people seeking to learn a new language or reinforce old skills. I continue to add to that.
Mostly now I wish to pay tribute to the joys of language learning, and to the extraordinary linguistic riches of my beloved adopted city and makeshift language-learning lab: New York.
I am often asked how I remember all these languages. I don’t! I forget tons. I study, forget, restudy, relearn, reforget, and so on. Doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t fun for me: I am a language hedonist! With each new language, my sense of the world, linguistic and otherwise, feels, well, larger. I treasure that.
I would love to see more Americans in particular, but also people around the world, enjoy the study of languages they did not grow up speaking.
A new language is a hand held out to one’s neighbor, an opener of doors, a new way to see, a mental tickle, a road to unmediated communication with strangers in other lands, access to the world’s news, a gesture of peace — really, language study can be anything you want to make of it.