Canada's 'most multilingual' student speaks 19 languages
Published Tuesday, July 2, 2019 7:22PM EDT
Canada’s most “multilingual student” loves a challenge.
Fluent in “eight or nine” languages and conversant in 10 more, McGill University student Georges Awaad has set his sights on a near-extinct Mayan tongue as his next linguistic challenge.
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Montreal born and raised, 20-year-old Awaad’s first language is French.
He also speaks English, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, Swedish, Georgian, Armenian, Cantonese, Korean, Esperanto, and Dutch.
Hearing his grandparents speak Arabic was the first time another language sparked his interest. An elementary school project at the age of 10 cemented his love for linguistics.
“We had to do stories around a table in different languages and the different sounds and accents struck with me -- ‘I want to keep doing this,’” he told CTVNews.ca.
Awaad, who is studying for a degree in linguistics, found the other Latin-based Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish and Italian the easiest to pick up because of their similarity to his native French.
But he said the languages similarities can also be a hindrance.
“They spell lots of things in common and there’s more mix-up because of that,” he said.
His most difficult language to learn was Georgian.
“It has a lot of different grammar from other languages,” he told CTVNews.ca.
“I found it hard wrapping my head around some conjugations and irregulars (verbs). I found it great fun to challenge myself in that way.”
Of course learning a language means learning a new writing system, which is another challenge Awaad enjoys.
“My favourite of those is the Chinese characters,” he said.
“Those characters are very beautiful to look at and when you know the history of them they look like a pictorial representation of the character, how the Chinese see these things, how these things have evolved over 3,000 years.”
For those looking to learn a new language, Awaad has some tips and puts the emphasis on fun.
“Choose a language that you love, that you’re inspired by,” he told CTVNews.ca.
“You really have to love it and that will keep you motivated in the long run. Start with small daily goals and in a year’s time you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve improved.”
Awaad suggests language learners get their hands on a movie dubbed in their language of choice.
Small daily goals could be ten new words, he advised.
“I watched Disney movies and it helped get my ears used to those languages – it’s fun,” he said.
Awaad told CTVNews.ca some of the benefits he sees in learning a new language.
“You can use them as a way to communicate more directly with people from other countries,” he said.
“When you speak to them in their own language they really appreciate it, it makes it more meaningful when you speak to them.”
Awaad’s current project sees him working with an endangered Mayan language called Chuj from northern Guatamala and southern Mexico.
Teaming up with a professor and a grad student, Awaad is working to preserve the ancient language.
He was crowned “most multilingual” in May following a search by language learning app Babbel and popular blog Student Life Network.
Following video submissions judged by native speakers, Awaad was declared winner and won a trip to Babbel headquarters in Berlin, Germany, later this summer.
“As a team of hundreds of linguists from all around the world, we are extremely impressed by Georges’ command of languages, especially for someone so young,” Ted Mentele, Babbel’s editor in didactics, said in a statement.