Obies Using Languages: Ramzy Lakos ’18

Ramzy is a third year Geology and East Asian Studies with a concentration in linguistics.

Tell me about the languages you heard growing up:

I grew up in Dubai so I heard a lot of Arabic. Both of my parents speak Arabic. Between the two of them they speak 6 languages. They both speak French. My mom speaks Dutch. Dad speaks German. Whenever they wanted to say something they didn’t want me to hear they’d say it in a different language, usually French. Once I learned French they started using Arabic. Then I learned that. Then they were out of shared languages so they had to say it in English.

So you grew up speaking English?

Yeah, my native language is English.

How would you describe your peak skill level in French and Arabic?

The first language I got to a real high level in was French. I took French for 6 years and did a lot of intensive study in France. My peak was pretty close to fluent, but now it’s probably my worst language. The same thing sort of happened for Arabic. Right now I think my best language is Chinese. In Chinese I can hold a conversation about almost any subject.

How long have you been studying Chinese?

Two years. I started my first semester when I got to Oberlin.

Why did you keep going?

There was just no way I was gonna stop. I think once I started doing it my plan was to do it for four years. I just wanted to progress as fast as possible.

How do you feel about your current progression?

I’d say I’m pretty satisfied. I think I picked it up faster than the average person. I started going to the Chinese language table my first week and I could hold a conversation by the second semester. Now I’m approaching fluency in a certain way.

How are you so good at languages?

I don’t think it’s really a question of being good or bad at languages. I just think it’s about how much time you decide to devote to it. Compared to the average person I spend an inordinate amount of time studying languages. Over the past few years there’s only been a few weeks where I haven’t been studying a new language. My vacations and my breaks have been spent studying. I think that the success that I’ve had has come from the fact that I really really enjoy learning them, and so I’m willing to dedicate a lot of my time learning. I have learned a lot about how I best learn languages, which I think is something that only comes after spending a long amount of time studying.

Any other languages on the horizon?

I started teaching myself Spanish before the summer. This semester I’m teaching myself Hindi. I don’t really have the time, but my goal is to do an intensive Hindi or Urdu study for next summer.

How do you see yourself using languages after academic life?

I have a few plans. Most of them involve fellowships and scholarships. I’ll probably do that for a few years. After that I’ve thought about teaching languages. I haven’t figured out which ones I want to teach but it’s definitely a path I want to go down. I’m also interested in translation. I’ve considered doing a master’s in translation. But mostly I want to go abroad, spend time in non-English speaking countries.

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