I grew up in America knowing that I had Polish roots but having no exposure to the language. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began asking more questions and trying to learn more about my family history. By becoming a genealogist and studying my family origins, I was led to learn new skills and topics such as research, analysis, language and history. A high school project started me down the path of collecting documents about my ancestors. But very quickly I ran into the language barrier. Many of the documents I sought were in foreign archives and written in foreign languages (mostly Polish, Russian or German). But I was determined to make progress anyway.
After graduation, I joined the U.S. military as a linguist and I chose to study the only Slavic language available to me at that time, Russian. The courses were extremely intense and my sole responsibility for the first 18 months. That career decision has led to a lifetime of studying language, culture and history. My work life has supported my hobby for many years and between the two I have amassed large amounts of context in which to study my roots.
At the age of 35, I was finally able to move to Poland to work on a Master’s degree in European Studies and attempt to learn Polish. I have found it to be more difficult to learn than even Russian. In part, because so many young people that I have met in Kraków speak English now. Studying difficult Slavic languages has made me appreciate that I am a native speaker of English especially since English has become more and more prevalent throughout the world. At the same time, Polish both delights and frustrates me on a daily basis. As an analyst, I see patterns in language and therefore prefer to learn visually with documents and reading. But to truly become fluent in a foreign language, you must converse. That is even more difficult for introverted people but it can be done. I hope. I am still trying. The Polish ladies at the deli counter still ask me to repeat myself and I know I do not always use the correct grammar, but I’m hungry and the kiełbasa is so tasty!
Recently, I was given the wonderful opportunity to be a translation intern at Atominium. Here, my past experiences and personal abilities converge to make translating from Polish to English everyday a joy and a challenge. The challenge of translating ever new topics keeps things interesting and contributes to language learning. After all, as I believe Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit”. That’s how you make a linguist, or any professional really, with tons of tiny habits throughout a lifetime that add up to a powerful skill set. Both people and languages are constantly evolving, so it is convenient that now language learning is both my hobby and my job. Where are your habits taking you?