By Hiba Samdani, Co-T/E Life Editor Sophomore Justin Liu has achieved mastery in speaking four languages at age 16. Liu began his linguistic journey learning how to speak both English and Chinese in his household. When he entered sixth grade, he was introduced to German, but he did not regard it as a language he...
By Hiba Samdani, Co-T/E Life Editor
Sophomore Justin Liu has achieved mastery in speaking four languages at age 16.
Liu began his linguistic journey learning how to speak both English and Chinese in his household. When he entered sixth grade, he was introduced to German, but he did not regard it as a language he planned to pursue at first. The following year, though, when Liu decided that he wanted to attempt learning a new language, he chose German because of his prior experience.
“I was just curious, and I wanted to learn a new language, (so) German popped in my mind,” Liu said.
He took on the challenge of learning German by starting with basic exposure to the language. As his practice became more serious, he began watching YouTube videos and other media in German. In addition, he used a smart system flashcard program called Anki, which specializes in memory retention. As Liu eventually gained familiarity with the language, he practiced by joining a discussion thread in which people from around the world communicated in German.
“I met this really good friend from Germany, and we would always talk about random things and share these stories,” Liu said. “We would also share cultural differences between Germany and America, and that was really insightful.”
Because Liu achieved mastery in the language, he entered his freshman year taking AP German. He finished the year having attained a five on the AP test, the highest score achievable, and his German teacher, Kevin Nerz, felt that Liu’s linguistic ability was unlike any other student he had seen.
“I have had a couple of kids who have self-taught themselves to a high level, but he just blows them away,” Nerz said. “Sometimes some words aren’t as fresh in my head, but I can go to Justin and say, ‘Hey, what word do you think is good here?’ and he can chime in.”
Nerz credits Liu’s strength with retaining difficult phrases and remembering grammatical nuances as part of his success. He has the cognitive ability of recall and recollection, which allows him to pick up on vocabulary words quicker than other students.
“As far as my career at Conestoga, (Liu’s) talents and language are unprecedented,” Nerz said. “He doesn’t learn in such a mechanical way and just excels in all areas.”
Now that he has developed the ability to speak German, Liu has decided to tackle the challenge of taking AP Chinese and AP French this year. Although he considers Mandarin his first language, the lack of speaking the language regularly in his life has led him to forget common phrases and vocabulary. In taking AP Chinese, he hopes to become proficient to the point where he can maintain a conversation with others once again.
Part of Liu’s motivation behind learning these languages are the connections he can form with others and the heightened cultural awareness that comes as a result.
“When you learn a language, it feels like the other person will really respect you a bit more because (you are) taking your time to learn their language,” Liu said.
As he progresses in his education, Liu knows for certain he wants to continue expanding his knowledge in linguistics. Although it is unclear which language he wants to learn next, he has an interest in Arabic, Japanese, Russian and Estonian.
“I will be continuing on with linguistics in university for sure, (but) with which languages, I can’t say for certain,” Liu said. “But I can say for certain that German will definitely be something I will be continuing. (The other languages) would be my dream languages.”
Hiba Samdani can be reached at [email protected]
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