The Bi/Multilingual Stories podcast about bi/multilingual people’s life experience. My interviewees share their stories and memories about how they navigate their worlds from the varying perspectives of the languages they speak. They take us to known and unknown places, spaces. As a multilingual person myself, I believe in openness and understanding towards those who are “Othered”. Speking multiple languages is a great gift, sometimes hard work and not always an easy daily undertaking. Please subscribe, share and support this channel and its voices. Thank you! Danke! Köszönöm! Multumesc! Merci!
“One of my first memories was … I was wrapped up in a giant snow suit for the first time in my life feeling really uncomfortable, this little child enveloped in layers of snow pants and giant boots and coming from Italy I was like ‘What is this?’ … It was a shock … and the switch from speaking Italian to speaking English happened within a few days”.
Hanna Simmons is a Polish born, Canadian raised artist and designer residing in Oakland, California. She is the co-founder of Danna Space, a creative services agency and photo/video studio she runs with her husband Dan. In her free time, Hanna can be found exploring the vast geography of California, rock hunting and likely enjoying the views from a top a mountain.
“I think the last thing you learn on a very high level, is to do humor and to joke. … I found that very hard when I moved to Sweden when I was 19, that people would think that I’m stupid. When I was joking, but also when it was about emotional things, when you wanted to be very very precise with something and couldn’t really be so precise, that was very frustrating to me. “
Nora Below received her MFA from the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen under Professor Rolf Thiele and attended the Comic School in Sweden, before moving to Berlin. Her work ranges from finely drawn comics in ink and watercolor to large-scale oil paintings with portraits against the backdrop of Nordic landscapes. She explores the artistic intersection of the two disciplines, including spatial murals, collages, comics on canvas, and watercolor works.She has published fanzines and comics. As a musician, she has released several recordings and combined live shows with performance, which in turn appear in her comics.
“There are always these external forces … that send a message to you that you are not Armenian enough, or you’re not American. I think you don’t truly feel like you belong because there is always others who send you these very strong messages that you don’t belong.”
Susanna Semerdzhyan is ESL Instructor and poet in California. She was born in Armenia but grew up in Los Angeles. Drawing on her experience of being a child of immigrants and Armenian-American, her poetry is about identity and touches on themes of multiculturalism, multilingualism, empowerment, authenticity, discovery, confidence, community, and belonging.
“Switzerland has four official languages … the reward of learning a language was so clear fro the beginning… you learn that you can communicate with people if you learn to speak their language. It is more fun if you speak other people’s languages.“
Charlotte is a Swiss transplant to Silicon Valley. She has traveled extensively and loves discovering languages. Her mother tongue is Swiss German, a spoken-only language, and she grew up surrounded by sounds of High German, French, Italian, and English. She is fluent in German, French and English, and has basic knowledge in Spanish. Before becoming a Mom, she was working with tech startups, connecting Switzerland to the US.
“There is this welcoming and warmth in the language and then my body relaxes. My hands become more gestural and I feel like I come closer to people. … I can’t be 100% Mexican and I can’t be 100% Americana, and that’s OK. Maybe I’m also a mix of other cultures that I admire and that’s OK as well.”
Norma Córdova is a Mexican-American artist, born and raised in Oregon, by hard working Mexican immigrant parents. Her image based work creates illusions that conjure the realms of the imagination without presenting a factual reality. They intersect femininity, self identity, and wonder. Her work has been exhibited in the US and abroad, and has been published in The New Yorker, New York Times, Vice, PDN, and Lenscratch. In 2020, Córdova was included in the Top Photolucida 50 Critical Mass, and won best of show at the Center for Photographic Art’s International Juried Exhibition.
Native speakers, they told me, ‘your grammar sounds really broken…’ “…The first one or two years when I was back in Korea they said … ‘your Korean sounds so interesting, because it is Korean but it sounds like a translated English novel.’”. Some people make fun of it … like mimicking or something. That was embarrassing but at the same time it was like OK, people laughed and we had a fun time together.”
Heejin Jang is a multidisciplinary artist based in Seoul. Jang has lived, exhibited, and performed around the globe. Heejin presents a set of improvised computer music. She arranges and synthesizes sonic spaces that draw from the everyday and the trivial, re-forming them into phenomenal situations of meditation or digitally induced panic. Heejin played live and exhibited her pieces at The Lab, Yerba Buena center for the arts, mumok Vienna, Harvestworks, Rhizome DC, High Zero Experimental Music Festival, SeMA Nanji, Dotolim, Platform-L, Superdeluxe, Center for New Music, DubLab, and many more.
“… I was in Spain … and neither of them could communicate in the same language and both parties were getting really angry. I think I was only a child then and I went over and asked ‘do you want me to help? do you want me to translate? and I think it really helped and it kind of came to a solution because I was there to help. … That’s when I felt it’s so cool that I can speak both, English and Spanish because I just helped the situation.”
Natalia grew up bilingual and spent every summer in a quaint village in Spain with her grandparents and many cousins. She absolutely loves languages and different cultures. She’s travelled extensively around Latin America and Spain and teaches Spanish after school clubs. By merging the two experiences, she decided to write bilingual books for children. She’s the founder of the independent children’s publisher Bilingo Books.
‘At a French table conversation happens in a very lively manner, led by constant interruptions and vivid exchange. In the US there is much more respect and space to express yourself. English is a very fluid language with a great rhythm and pulsation and as a musician you want to immediately translate it into music.’
“If I spoke in Nigerian English in Canada, people won’t understand me. When I’m more comfortable with people, or I’m having fun, I use Nigerian English. In these situations I don’t have to curate myself or feel embarrassed because someone corrects me. As time passes I get more and more comfortable in both spaces, the Nigerian, as well as the Canadian English.
Being a migrant has taught me to question things and understand that there are many ways to live your life and these ways can be equally valuable.”
Emmanuel Osahor’s practice engages with beauty as a necessity for survival, and a precursor to thriving in the midst of today’s marginalization and inequity. Through a rigorously playful inquiry into materials and image making processes, his works depict garden spaces as complicated sanctuaries within which manifestations of beauty and care are present. He is professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
“When we immigrated to the US I was very afraid to speak because I knew that a lot of people can be cruel and make fun of you if you have an accent. So I started participating in choir or theater so I took on different personas and acted things out and that helped me a lot to come out of my shell. I learned how to control my speech so that my accent wouldn’t come out. … At school I would participate in theater and the choir and that helped me to take on different personas and act things out.”
“Imagined language is the root of my work. I am fascinated by cultures that use symbols, gestures, and patterns to create maps of both their reality and their dreams. This lack of distinction between fantasy and reality opens up the way we can think about our world. This paradigm creates a world of physical impossibilities and questions our presence in time and space. I am fascinated with the ambiguous state in which one can exist neither here nor there, a space in between worlds.”
“I never found dutch a beautiful language in a way. I feel dutch people are super modest to the sense they don’t value themselves as much as they should; I can’t relate to people who feel a strong bond to their country. What does it really mean to culturally belong? I’m in the visual box but I don’t think you need that much language to feel culture. Without knowing the language there are ways to understand culture.”
Niel de Vries was born in 1994 in the Netherlands. After completing a business degree in Rotterdam he now continues his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. Niel’s works address concepts such as sense of place and ecology often creating communities around projects for combined learning and conversation.
“There is a difference between languages in a sense that, from an emotional point of view, one language can be more self centered, while another references inward and outward directed emotions. One language is more administrative, the other one is the soul language. Translanguaging is an advantage of multilingual people as it enables them to express themselves in a variety of ways switching between languages, adding words that fit best the meaning and purpose of the conversation. The more languages we speak the better we understand the world; knowing languages is a door to the world, it is like knowing how to read and write.”
Mihaela Gazioglu is a Romanian who, in 2017, moved together with her family to the US. She has been living in South Carolina ever since. She is currently doing her Ph.D. in Literacy, language, and culture at Clemson University, where she also teaches.
“Sometimes body and soul feels disconnected when speaking in a language rather foreign to us. At other times we want to hide that we know a special language at the level of our mother tongue. How the location impacts the feeling of belonging paired with memories that come and go, in and out between two different world, different languages. You switch between languages and switch into a different persona.”
Born in Tehran, Aras Seddigh lives and works as an artist in Istanbul. She graduated from Azad University, Department of Computer Engineering in 2013 and completed her masters degree in Visual Arts at Sabancı University, Istanbul. Her works mainly deal with concepts such as timelessness, spacelessness, and the search for language and identity.
In this episode of Bi/Multilingual Stories we talk about the feeling of dreaming in English for the first time, having inner dialogs in different languages and working with them. How does a foreign language interfere with one’s mind in relation to the mother tongue?
Born in Changchun, China, Hanwen Zhang is an artist and filmmaker based in Changchun and Shanghai. He received a BS degree in Mathematics and Physics from Tsinghua University in 2016 and an MFA degree in Photo, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in 2019. His honor includes Thomas Reiss Memorial Award, SAH Award for Film and Video, Vermont Studio Center Artist-in-Residence, BRIClab Residency, and etc.
In this episode of Bi/Multilingual Stories my guest Orit Gat and I talk about the different notions of migration, about notions of home and how they change in the context of a multilingual presence, and much more!
Orit Gat is a writer living in London who writes about contemporary art and digital culture for many magazines, including frieze, ArtReview, and art-agenda. She’s currently working on a nonfiction book, titled If Anything Happens, that looks at football (soccer) as a prism through which to explore questions about immigration, nationalism, race, gender, money, love, and the possibility of belonging.
In the second episode of Bi/Multilingual Stories my guest and I talk about the rhythm of language, the change of of moods when switching to another language, lost languages, music as the language of all languages, the shared sadness and joy of the latin community and much more!
Hernan Giorcelli Argentinian clarinetist, composer, investigator and professor based in Buenos Aires. In 2013 he graduated as a licentiate in composition with electro-acoustic media from the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (UNQ). Since then, he has dedicated himself to premiere works of instrumental music and mixed media of young and consecrated composers from Argentina and other countries. He has been awarded scholarships by the different institutions such as Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (CAN), Fondo Nacional de las Artes (ARG) and Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación (ARG). He performs as a clarinetist in orchestras, chamber groups and independent projects of Rock and Tango and he further composed the music for this podcast.
In this first episode of Bi/Multilingual Stories we talk about cultural sensitivities, the importance of community, what it feels like to not understanding and not being understood, German-Canadian cats and much more!
Ingrid Koenig is Artist in Residence at TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre and co-organizes processes of collaboration between artists and physicists. Her studio practice traverses fields of physics, social history, feminist theory and narratives of science through visual art and relational projects. She is recipient of grants from Canada Council for the Arts (recently to join the Arctic Circle art + science residency), Goethe Institute, and SSHRC, co-awarded for the project Leaning Out of Windows – Art + Physics Collaborations Through Aesthetic Transformations (2016-2023). Based in Vancouver, she is associate professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.