Thinking Outside the Fingers; Linguistic Enthusiasm and Cultural Awareness

I’ve got the whole world in my hands. Do you have the whole world in your hands? There is a lot of pressure for that global responsibility. Can you handle it all? Is the world really that small, or do we have really small hands? Please excuse my curiosity, now let me entice yours.

I would love to step aside from the romance on my blog, and come back down to Earth about my personal life. Yeah, this is a personal blog post.

What makes it distinct? I will briefly discuss my linguistic enthusiasm and cultural awareness for the last decade of my life. I am willing to share my brief story of how fortunate I am to take a part of the world with me every day.

Linguistic Enthusiasm 

The main building is EHHS. The building on the side is the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy (CIBA) where I enrolled in Mandarin Chinese.

Did you have to enroll in a foreign language class to graduate on time? Did you understand anything in those classes? Failed Spanish, but passed French? You definitely might understand where linguistic enthusiasm might come into play. I define linguistic enthusiasm as the interest for languages, specifically foreign languages. Why would anyone ever have that urge to learn more than one foreign language? Well, why not?

In seventh and eighth grade, I studied Spanish with outstanding grades. My teacher’s astonishment and overwhelming interest tickled my parents. My teacher wanted to know how I managed to adapt to a new language that fast. Well, I am Italian. We never speak Italian here, but it is close to Spanish. No, Spanish is rarely spoken here either. It naturally came to me. East Hartford High School required three years of a foreign language. This was just year one.

During my freshman year, I scheduled something extraordinarily different from most freshmen planning for their sophomore years. This was definitely a turning point in my life, and I will explain that later in this post.

The pointless elective courses, except for Managing Personal Finance, enticed my enthusiasm to enroll in French. The first year was an easy A, so I continued until I reached French 3 Honors. To make a long story short, Spanish 4 Honors finally pushed me over the edge. Tired? No, Spanish 5 is an advanced placement course. It is extremely difficult because it offers college credit in a foreign language when you pass the examination.  I passed Spanish 4 Honors, and enrolled in the following year with Mandarin Chinese. Keep in mind – the honors courses have a faster paced environment for students who seek a challenge than those who are in regular courses.

My transcript was ridiculously fake. No, really, it was something you would find on a government resumé, or curriculum vitae (CV). The University of Connecticut (UConn) accepted me for my diversified high school transcript. Who wouldn’t? I graduated with Spanish 4 Honors, French 3 Honors, and Mandarin Chinese I. Was that enough? No, not really.

During my senior year, I also enrolled in a non-credit Introductory to Arabic night course. Yes, this was precisely during the same time I enrolled in French 3 Honors and Chinese 1. Was I crazy? No, I was diversified. I applied to UConn to take an advantage of their Arabic and Chinese courses. Yeah, I did it. The one thing all high school teachers will always tell you to never do. “Take an advantage of the foreign language courses now because it is a lot harder in college!” My high school helped us pursue that language requirement before we were ever considered for a college or university. UConn’s graduation requirement in a foreign language is easy to complete. However, I enrolled in these courses just because I can.

Did I receive any awards in high school for my achievements? Yes! Although I was not awarded for my perfect attendance in high school, I did receive a few interesting academic dust collectors for the walls in my room.

The following are the awards from high school:

  • 1st Recipient Outstanding Six Year Student in World Language (2008)
  • Department Scholar Plaque E.H.H.S. 2008 Presented for Excellence in World Language
  • World Language Scholarship

Wait, first recipient? How did that happen? Yeah, did you notice that too? First recipient does mean, “the one and only.” After four years from my high school graduation, an informative message came to me mentioning that the award is given out every year for someone who excels in a foreign language. Instantly, this felt like a foreign legacy! Students enrolled in more than one foreign language class, and I started the trend. Oh, by the way, ignore the guy in the picture. That was four years ago. A recent photo is in my About Me section.

University of Connecticut 

My academic ambitions were primarily focused on Middle Eastern Studies for a major, but that never happened. Why? Well, UConn barely has enough funding for the minor, so it is highly unlikely anyone will find a major program too. What else could I possibly study? A career that focused on government relations intrigued me the most, but I wanted to study something that involved languages. Linguistics. Yeah, linguistics! What? Linguistics isn’t offered by itself? Ok, fine. Linguistics and Psychology or Linguistics and Philosophy? I chose my plan, but I was not sticking to it.

Linguistics and Psychology

This program eventually lost my interest. I focused on an individualized major in International Relations without declaring it official. While I enrolled in a lot of Political Science courses, I missed the deadlines for declaring that major. What else would there be? Political Science. Yeah, I am now the “poli sci guy.”  I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2012. Yes, last summer. Now, let’s rewind back to my first semester. Elementary Chinese and Arabic I? Wait, what? Is that possible? No, let me rephrase that. How do you make it possible?

Foreign Expedition 

My primary focus was foreign languages while balancing out my courses towards graduation. During the first advisor meeting, I suggested that I wanted to take both Elementary Chinese I and Arabic I. Do you really think my advisor was the only one flipping out? No, my parents encouraged it, but my professors were extremely intrigued. How could you enroll in two extremely difficult languages at a college level? Let me tell you – it wasn’t as easy as the romance languages from earlier.

Mandarin Chinese

First, just imagine Mandarin Chinese; the language of four tones. When I say four tones, you better watch your tone with your own mother! You might call her a horse!

I typed the following sentence below in this WordPress unpublished post using Pinyin, or another way of saying – the textual version of the characters. This is what most people can try to read before tackling the Chinese restaurant menus!  As soon as you become familiar with the Pinyin, you can download a language pack on your computer. You can set it up to Mandarin Chinese, and type away. This is what happens:

As I’m writing,

Ni hao ma? Wo bu shi laoshi. Wo shi da xuesheng. Wo jia you si ge ren. Wo mama, wo baba, yi ge meimei, he wo. 

These characters* pop up:

你好吗? 我不是老师。 我是大学生。 我家有四个人。 我妈妈,我爸爸,一个妹妹, 和我。 

Did you understand anything? Mama? Baba? Come on! You know exactly what and who mama is! Are there any Arabic speakers? Yeah you! Baba (بابا)! Wait, that looks weird with the exclamation point in the front. Yeah, Arabic has a backwards script. I hope you read it from the exclamation point to the last ‘a’ in ‘baba.’  Now, if you have no clue what reference I pointed out between the two completely different languages – ‘baba’ is father in both languages. Impressed? Ha, congratulations! I enticed you to have linguistic enthusiasm!

*Note: You can also select traditional characters if you preferred.

Honestly, I could write a lot about my years learning Mandarin Chinese! Would you like to find out more about this? Leave a comment below this article. If there is a high interest,  I might write another blog post just on my experiences of learning Mandarin Chinese.

Yalla! Now, let’s focus on Arabic. Mumtaz (ممتاز)!  Can you remember your pre-school days learning the alphabet? In this modern-day of technology, parents exploit their children for YouTube views with their attempts of learning the alphabet. Did you ever think about other children outside your country learning their own alphabet? Now is a great time to start!

In the Arabic Abjad, or distinct writing system, there are 28 letters to remember! Wow? ! و Ha, right! Waw is one of them!  !ي  Ya is another! Check out the video below:

Now, how long does it take to learn Arabic? Honestly, Arabic is extremely difficult for different reasons. Did I mention why Chinese was difficult? Obviously, I mentioned about the tones. You probably could have guessed the other reason – the characters.

You might not have enough time or the lack of time management. You might not have enough assistance with a native speaker, or the lack of an effective program that can help you appropriately.  There are many sounds that native English speakers cannot say. Just think for a minute about the ‘th’ sound in thank you. Thhhhis is thhhhhoughtful. 

Non-native English speakers cannot seem to stick their tongue in between their teeth, while others just have a linguistic barrier to learning the pronunciation. Well, Arabic has sounds that native English speakers have a problem pronouncing as well.

Ah, parfait! No, not this:

The French Minor 

Have you ever ran a marathon? Maybe you had a race with your younger or older sibling, but you stopped to tie your shoe? Well, that’s exactly what happened with my French studies. In an effort to complete everything for graduation, I was left with three courses shy from a minor in French. Merde! Honestly, that is not a problem. Why not? Well, it’s more of a personal gain.

Minors are great to have for a backup on your resumé, but they are only a part of your transcript if you ever wanted to show them off. They are a filler to help you with other courses to meet graduation requirements. They are a separate study from your major so you can expand your mind to other fields. My French, speaking and writing, has greatly improved and I have done a lot with the French Club at UConn. During the last-minute, I organized a bus trip for Montreal. Those pictures could have been part of this post, but I would never be finished. Oh, I also received the Primary Applied Foreign Language Certificate of Achievement in French in 2011.

I would love to continue with more about this, but I could write an entire book alone on this blog post. So, let us move forward to Federico Fellini’s quote that will perfectly transition into cultural awareness.

Cultural Awareness 

“A different language is a different vision of life.”

– Federico Fellini, Italian film director

Federico Fellini, an Italian film director, gave me leverage into Academia.  My linguistic enthusiasm became the base, or foundation, for cultural awareness. The application process for UConn required a written essay among a compiled list of essay questions. I chose, “Describe a person or event that has had a profound effect upon your life.” Well, that was easy for anyone to use Fellini’s quote and a background of foreign language classes.

What did Fellini mean about this? Is he suggesting that I might be living in one vision of life if I only spoke one language? I want to see the world! I want the whole world in my hands! Well, cultural awareness is precisely what he wants to convey through his words. You will see a different vision of life, if you choose to open up more to the world around you.


Can you find Waldo? Yeah, that’s me in Spain in 2007. I am not sure why I have such a distinct facial expression on my face, but I remember my picture being taken. Mr. Bacon was capturing moments of us hanging out at a café early in the morning. However, we all look concerned at Harry for some reason.

Did you notice anything else that morning? Take a closer look, but this was during a completely different day:


Es verdad! Ellos son churros! No hablas espanol? Right, they’re churros! Are you always buying fried dough at the carnivals or fairs? Well, this treat is definitely part of that family. The fascinating thing about ordering churros is how to order the chocolate dipping sauce in Spanish. If you notice, in the previous picture, we have hot chocolate. That is not the chocolate caliente that we wanted! Was it café con leche? Well, anyways, we finally learned from our mistakes and ordered the correct way throughout the trip.


Oh, remember that newspaper in front of me? Yeah, well, that was a very interesting article! I believe I kept that newspaper somewhere in my room, but if you remember the story, let me know. I believe it was about a family homicide. Anyways, away from that touchy subject, it was definitely intriguing at the time.

I would love to upload more pictures of Spain, but that would be a detour in my blog post. The core message you would understand from all of it is that you should learn the language and then travel to a native country to use your skills better. The Montreal trip, mentioned earlier, was extremely rewarding under the unfortunate circumstances of winter weather. Oh hail, it was worth it though!

If I could summarize Federico Fellini’s quote, I would look back at my last summer session upon completing my four-year degree. In my About Me, I list one main event under scholastic activities that has changed my life forever. When I sent an email to one of the directors for the University of Connecticut American English Language Institute (UCAELI), I was expecting the unexpected. Why was I volunteering?

I became a Conversation Partner volunteer. A Conversation Partner focuses on the commitment to the enrichment and exchange of interpersonal communication in English with native Mandarin, Arabic, Korean, and European speakers. In fact, a lovely Italian woman mentioned that Federico Fellini directed poor Italian films, but did not realize he said such cultural words of wisdom.

Upon registration, everyone’s assigned to a room with a foreign exchange group from Taiwan for a few weeks. One weekend, vacancies across campus required Conversation Partner volunteers for several classrooms. I chose the one closer to where I lived. Although it was disappointing, being apart from my group was the best decision I have ever made.

The instructor, I believe his name was Kevin, is also an English teacher. He looked around the room and asked if anyone was a guest speaker. Well, I knew exactly why I was there but I never considered myself as a guest speaker. I was a native speaker, not a guest speaker. I told him why I was there, but he was looking for someone else. Then, looking around the room, I was the only Conversation Partner there. The instructor asked me to stand up in front of the small lecture room in the School of Business building. Yes, that picture you see there is precisely what it looked like. It was a Q & A of random questions from the foreign exchange students. The group smiled from all the intriguing responses about my linguistic enthusiasm and cultural awareness. They wanted to know more about this young American student who thought outside the box.

When a young woman had trouble with answering a question, I helped her out. The instructor asked, “Give me an example of a sound in all four tones of Mandarin Chinese, and then tell me what they all mean.” She was hesitant on her response. Was there an English barrier? She was probably nervous, but I helped her out, and she felt more confident in what to say. “Ma. Use ma.”  

On the right, be familiar with the four tones in Mandarin Chinese. The four tone marks applied to ma: 


Wait, isn’t there another ma?

Yes, it’s a question particle.

It looks like this: 吗

Do you want a tongue twister?


mā ma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, mā ma mà mǎ

That room had everyone from every country that I focused upon throughout my studies. It was my own personal United Nations in a smaller room. Nobody was left out which helped the equilibrium within the room. After graduating from UConn, sometimes I look back at my transcript. I have elementary Arabic with modern Arab culture courses. I have elementary Mandarin Chinese with an East Asian history class. I have intermediate French courses that professors taught entirely in French, primarily focused on French history and culture. I achieved a lot, and now I am ready for a government career.

Questions (Optional): 

  1. How many languages did you study throughout your life thus far? How many do you fluently speak?
  2. Would you like to learn a different language? Which one?
  3. If you could live somewhere else in the world, outside your own country, where would it be? Why?
  4. Would you be prepared to speak the native language for #3’s destination?
  5. How do you feel about Federico Fellini’s quote? What have you noticed different from outside your own native language?

Have any questions or comments? Please feel free to ask!

Take care!



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Thinking Outside the Fingers; Linguistic Enthusiasm and Cultural Awareness