Obies Using Languages: Rex Fortgang ’18


Rex is a third year Geology and Creative Writing double major from New York City who has studied Spanish and Arabic throughout his academic career This interview was conducted in between his intense flashcard making for both languages.

Tell me how you started learning Spanish:

In middle school. The first thing I learned how to say was “el burro sabe mas que tu” That means means the “donkey knows more than you.”

How was that the first thing you learned?

She wrote it on the board.

How did you react?

I thought it was funny and kinda edgy because I was in fifth grade. Then I was like “Spanish can be used to say so many different things. Gotta learn it.”

You’ve taken Spanish forever. Why did you stick with it?

I was required by my school to take a language. My brother took French so I wanted to take something different. I didn’t want Chinese because I thought it would be way too hard. In high school all the cool kids took French. All the hard working kids took Chinese. Everyone else took Spanish.

You went to Spain for a year in high school. How was learning Spanish in Spain?

Really easy because you were practicing all the time. You went outside and you were practicing and everything was really applicable because I was doing Spanish in the real world, not in some classroom. I took school a lot less seriously that year. I didn’t get a deep understanding of the language but I got a good understanding of the culture. The other kids knew fundamentals better but I had the colloquialisms.

Why did you pick up Arabic when you came to Oberlin?

I needed a fourth class my sophomore year and I thought it would be cool. For a long time I’d been saying that I wanted to learn Hebrew because I’m Jewish and I wanted to relate to my culture somehow. Then I sorta realized that I’m really not that connected to that side of me. I thought about languages that were widely spoken. Arabic’s widely spoken and I sat in on a class and the teacher seemed cool. Arabic is also a lot different from the languages I know –a total departure. I thought it would be cool.

Any thoughts about Arabic at Oberlin?

Arabic is so widely spoken. It’s sad there’s not more interest for Arabic here. I mean the alphabet is used all over the world. The language is so distinct from the traditional languages we teach in America, like English, French, Spanish, you know? We think those languages are so distinct from one another but they almost use the same alphabet. Arabic’s like that. Arabic is like a completely different language in basically every Arabic country. If you speak to someone in Morocco and speak to someone in Iraq the two people are using the same alphabet but you wouldn’t necessarily feel like they’re speaking the same language. It’s kind of like if you heard someone speak English and someone else speaking French you’d recognize that they’re speaking two different languages. It’s such a large language too. I wish more students were interested in learning it.


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