Last week, a taxi driver in Prague, Czech Republic was looking at the passenger’s name in the app strangely.
“Where are you from”, the driver asked in Czech to his passenger in the back seat, only to understand that they were both from Kosovo.
The passenger is Dite Gashi, a Blockchain Entrepreneur, living in Prague, who sat with Youth Time to celebrate International Mother Language Day, a worldwide annual observance taking place on 21 February.
On this note, Gashi continues the story with the taxi driver by emphasizing the importance of the mother tongue as a bridge connector in social interactions to this day.
“I told him I am from Kosovo, and he said “Hello Shqipe” (Shqipe, Albanian for Eagle- often used to refer to Albanians). It turns out he is a guy from Prizren [a city located in the south of Kosovo]. We had a great chat as if we would be at home and obviously that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t fluent in Albanian.”
Barely imagining a world without the English language
He also shares what was the first thing that came to his mind when hearing about what 21st of February stands for.
“The first thing that came to my mind was that “Oh there is a day for native languages, I didn’t know that”. The second of course is my native language which is Albanian.”
He expresses his joy that we have a native language day “because the world we live in today is very inter-connected, and we are really living in a very globalized planet with high diversity and richness that comes with it.
“Sometimes I feel like one can be lost in it all and our origins are the north star.”
English on the other hand, he goes on, is like a necessary language today.
“Without it, I believe I would be blind, professionally and personally. So much of our communications are in English these days that I cannot even imagine doing my daily activities without it.
“The ability to travel and really feel the country you are traveling to is very pleasant if you speak some of the local language. “
Does Gashi miss speaking, working, and socialising in Albanian?
“Well, these days, there isn’t much socialisation happening due to the pandemic, but I do enjoy hanging out with my friends back home or wherever we meet in the world.”
Usually, he has phone and video calls with friends and family.
“I do like watching comedies and hearing or telling jokes in my native language, somehow that just hits differently.”
Living elsewhere can push people to engage more in movies, books, music, and art in their native language, or maybe not necessarily?
Gashi answers this, and speaks about the role that the current situation in his home country has in him engaging more in Albanian-speaking activities.
“I do make a note to watch at least 20 minutes of Albanian TV daily just to keep in touch with everything going on.”
“Now our homeland is undergoing interesting reforms and changes therefore it’s very interesting and in a way, rewarding to follow-up with everything that is happening.”
One issue that Gashi is encountering lately is that Albanian language is not being spoken or written very well by people living outside the country.
“I don’t blame them, many of us grew up abroad. To counter that I always love to go back to some of Kadare books because I think he is the one who uses Albanian in the most masterful way possible.
“If I get too Gheg-nostalgic I will go back and listen to some good old Fishta.”
The joy of learning Czech
Acknowledging that mother tongue, among others, develops one’s personal, social and cultural identity, he further elaborates how he manages to cultivate his culture as well as integrate in other societies speaking different languages, such as Prague is.
In his opinion, a significant amount of our culture is verbal.
“So, we cultivate it by getting together, listening to our music, eating some of our foods and obviously gossiping about politics and telling jokes.”
However, Czech language is completely different from languages he knows, and therefore it poses some challenges while he is learning it.
“I take it very patiently though, and I allow myself to make mistakes which makes me feel like a beginner again, and somehow I like that feeling of learning something new from scratch.
“Funnily enough, learning some Czech helps me understand the local people better when they speak English because I can see their sentence composition from a Czech perspective and put it in place. Our brains are just amazing.” says Gashi, who in addition to Prague, also lived for more than a year in Sweden, Greece, Texas, and in Illinois.
And of course, his home country, Kosovo.
Consciously speaking one language at time
Speaking from my own experience, I find it hard to not casually switch between Albanian and English when talking. Well, at least sometimes.
Unlike me, Gashi makes a conscious effort to keep them separate so when he goes English it’s 100% and when he goes Albanian it’s also 100%.
“A friend caught me translating the word “Silicon Valley” in Albanian when I was explaining something, and she found it weird. I always try to speak each language I am speaking or writing to the maximum of my abilities. I believe people think mixing them makes them seem cool, but in my book it’s just poor language knowledge and cognitive control.”
Interviewing someone whose native language is Albanian, just like mine, who works mostly in English, just like me, and who is learning Czech, the country of Youth Time, where I am engaged as a freelance writer makes me wonder if we are already living in a Global Village?
For this dilemma you can read about the Global Village – When the World Becomes Small.
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