Q&A with Michael Reid

AUAP Student Services Coordinator speaks 12 languages

By Rosie Perry, Staff Writer

Michael Reid, 40, is a native English speaker and has spent his life studying language.

He completed his bachelor’s degree at EWU in French linguistics and went on to start his own business as a translator and interpreter for the courts and hospitals in Spokane.

Reid taught French and Japanese at Whitworth University. He also taught in the Master of International Business program at Whitworth.

Reid spent time living and teaching in Japan before he returned to the U.S. and began working as Student Services Coordinator for Asia University America Program. He has been in this position for 10 years.

Throughout his life Reid has learned and taught many languages and he has agreed to share his story with the students of EWU.

The Easterner: How many languages do you speak?

Reid: I speak 12 languages.

The Easterner: What are they?

Reid: English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Swedish, German, moderately, and Arabic.

The Easterner: What are your best languages?

Reid: My best languages, like you could drop me in this country and I would feel totally fine just living my life as I do here would be English, Japanese, French, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Easterner: Why did you decide to learn all these languages in the first place?

Reid: I had some help — I got lucky environmentally. My mom speaks French and so I started learning that when I was growing up, and she also taught English to Japanese students and immigrants when we were living in San Francisco.

I was exposed to both those languages quite a bit growing up and I always had some rough idea of what they sounded like and how they worked. I wasn’t what you could call fluent in them but again I had some rough idea.

Then when I was about 11 or 12 I decided — and this is going to sound weird but it is the god’s honest truth — but I decided I wanted to be like Indiana Jones because I saw “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and I thought, “That is the coolest thing in the world. If I could speak all the languages he can speak then I could have all the adventures he has and I could learn all the things he’s learned.”

So I decided that’s what I wanted to do. Then I took the basics I had of the other languages and tried to make something else out of it, and I was fairly successful.

The Easterner: How many years did you spend learning the six you consider yourself to be proficient in?

Reid: With Japanese and French, again, I had that sort of accelerated start so those ones are hard to measure since at this point in my life I have spoken Japanese and French fluently for the great majority of my life.

The other languages I started from scratch learning. So, Spanish took about a year to where I was pretty comfortable with it, Portuguese about the same amount, and Greek took about a year and a half. Those are the three that I really started from the ground floor, mind you, with some advantages.

Spanish is a Romance language just like French is, so it wasn’t like I was completely lost coming into it. Portuguese is so similar to Spanish that I had a really big leg up.

By the time I learned Greek — it’s one of my most recent languages — but by the time I learned it I had so many other languages behind me that I knew what my own process was like and I knew about linguistics since it is what I have done professionally and academically pretty much my whole life. I had a lot of knowledge of languages and my wife’s Greek, so I had somebody to practice with and a very patient teacher for the whole process.

The Easterner: When did you learn Spanish and Portuguese?

Reid: I began learning Spanish when I lived in Japan because I had some friends there from South America, and they knew I spoke French. And so because I spoke French they figured they weren’t even going to bother to speak anything but Spanish around me.

We were all fluent in Japanese but when they were with each other, of course they spoke Spanish because it was their common language. Then I got to hanging out with them and they were just like, “Well, we’re not going to speak Japanese around you because it feels awkward for us so we’ll just speak Spanish because you’ll probably understand enough of it.”

I could make my way through it and by the time it was time for me to leave Japan I pretty much could understand 100 percent of what they were saying. Then I took some classes to formalize the knowledge that I had.

The Portuguese was just because I love soccer and I wanted to learn about Brazil because that’s like the mecca of soccer so I thought, “I’ll pick up Portuguese,” but like I said it was so similar to Spanish that it was just really easy.

Basically I got some podcasts and I started finding stuff about soccer to read in Portuguese and I thought, if this is enough like Spanish that I can understand what’s going on here then, yeah, I get the gist of this article, and the words I didn’t understand I would look up.