1. Tell us about your background (origin, education, occupation, activities, etc.)
I have only a one-word name "Teddy". It is normal and common to have only a one-word name in Indonesia. I am a 100% Medanese (a person from Medan city) from Hokkien origin. I graduated from Ming Chuan University in 2012 and Taipei Tech in 2014. I have been working as a programmer since 2014. Besides, I have been a blogger since January 2007, a language meetups organizer since April 2017, and a Medan Hokkien vlogger since February 2020.
2. Please share about when and how you became interested in language learning
It was when I started to study at the university in Taiwan. I enrolled in an international program, where English is used as the main teaching-learning language. The students come from many countries in the world, predominantly from countries with diplomatic relationships with Taiwan. There were a lot of cultural activities. At that time, I saw the opportunity to learn about other cultures without even the need to travel to their countries. I also figured out that not everyone could express themselves well in English or wanted to speak English. There were many non-native English speakers. It was fascinating to see how these people from diverse language backgrounds used English to communicate despite their non-native fluency. That was when I started to learn foreign languages although I was improving English and Chinese at the same time.
3. Can you share about the challenges you encountered on your beginning days of staying in Taiwan?
My first experience of living overseas is in Taiwan, I came to Taiwan in 2008. Prior to that, I actually did not know much about Taiwan except its popular dramas and singers. I could not speak Chinese at all before coming to Taiwan, so I was not interested in the dramas and songs. I had heard that Taiwanese people can also speak Hokkien, the Taiwanese variant of Hokkien. And later I figured out that their Hokkien is so much different from my Hokkien, the Medan variant. The language was the biggest challenge besides the weather and lifestyle.
4. What do the participants do in your language meetups?
I encourage them to only speak foreign languages with one another in the meetup. This is easily doable for the English meetup since English is a popular foreign language, and almost everyone is familiar with it. However, it is very difficult to achieve for the non-English meetups, such as the Southeast Asian language meetup. In that case, we speak mainly Chinese to help each other learn Southeast Asian languages in the meetup. These are social gatherings so there is no teacher role. Everyone is free to chat with anyone they like.
5. We know that you can speak more than 5 languages, what are the languages and how do you use them?
Yes, I do. Medan Hokkien and Indonesian are my native languages. The language I use depends on whom I talk with. If the person is a Medan Hokkien speaker, I use Medan Hokkien, otherwise, I would use Indonesian. I studied in the international program for 6 years in Taiwan. The main language was English. I speak Chinese every day in Taiwan and I even work in a Taiwanese company. I always use Spanish with any Spanish speakers, especially Latin friends in Taiwan. I did presentations in Esperanto at its events. I have also spoken Portuguese, French, and Tok Pisin/ Pijin with the native speakers in Taiwan. I also train myself to read in Italian, Dutch, and Afrikaans. Overall, I always read articles, listen to radios, and chat online every day. I would say that my reading ability is the best because there is not much opportunity for me to talk in some foreign languages in real life unless I use it to talk online.
6. What is your real motivation to learn so many languages?
I like reading so much. Reading has opened so many opportunities to learn about other cultures and lifestyles. The information that we read may be bias or inaccessible in some languages. It may be distorted or lost in translation. Being able to read it in its original language really helps me understand it from a native speaker's perspective. I also like to communicate with foreigners. I am a social person. Foreign language skill is not a requirement in my job. I use English on the computer and I use English to search for related information to my job on the internet, and I speak Chinese with my coworkers.
7. How is your learning method?
I always learn the most important phrases and words in the beginning. I skip the pronunciation, alphabets, and grammar most of the time. I also have the habit to read about my target language's characteristics to see if it resembles anything that I have known, such as language similarity. I do repetition very often because I don't like to memorize, so I let my brain learns the phrases and words naturally through repetition. Listening is very helpful in building the target language's atmosphere, giving me the feeling as if I am staying in a place where my target language is spoken. This practice also lets my brain learns the accent naturally. From a nonlinguist's perspective, I guess this is the way children learn their native language. I also use an analytical method. That means breaking down parts by parts of a phrase to analyze its grammar and pronunciation.
8. What is your advice for language learners?
Find your motivation. Without motivation, it doesn't matter how good your method is, you will most likely fail. Decide if you value more easiness or usefulness. A Spanish speaker can learn Portuguese, Italian, French or Esperanto easier and faster than learning Arabic, Chinese or German. A useful language means that you can encounter the speakers easily or you can have a bigger opportunity to use the language. My other criteria for a language to be called useful is if it is an official language of the United Nations.
9. You know several languages, have you ever mixed them?
Yes, and it is normal. Code-switch or alternate between two or more languages in a conversation happens to everyone. It happens when we don't know how to say certain words or how to express something in the target language. The solution to this is to practice different topics and exercise a habit not to translate from a source language to the target language. Your knowledge about a topic decides how fluent you are in the language. Given this fact, even a native speaker won't be truly fluent in their native language because they won't know words of the topic that they are not familiar with.
10. Based on your experience, are there any funny moments caused by cultural differences?
I cannot think of anything that happened to me but misunderstandings because of cultural differences really happen in real life. Misunderstandings could happen in the same language spoken in different countries, such as the word "coger" means "to take" in Spanish spoken in Spain, and it means a different thing in Spanish spoken in Latin America. It could also happen with words from a language that sounds like something funny or pejorative in another language. Take the Indonesian word "makan" that means "to eat", it sounds like a pejorative word in Chinese.