Justine Suegay on Multilingualism and Perspective

Try to think of the busiest person you personally know.. Odds are that Justine Suegay, current president of George Mason’s Filipino Cultural Association, is busier. Aside from her integral role within the Filipino Cultural Association, the global affairs major (with a minor in Spanish too!) balances two jobs at the Center for the Arts and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

But here’s what just might be more dizzying: Justine speaks five languages. Growing up in the Philippines, she spoke English and Tagalog. When she moved to the US, she picked up her mother’s regional Filipino language, Visaya. In the 8th grade, she started taking Spanish and then French in high school.

“It just makes your brain work in a very different way,” says Justine on her multilingualism. “It makes you think of multiple perspectives at once.” Learning new languages has just as much to do with understanding their respective cultures as it does with vocabulary and grammar. For Justine, the languages she’s learned have not only equipped her with different skills, but different ways in which to think about other aspects of life whether political, social, or cultural.

Related: Tips for Learning a New Language

Justine’s languages have also, to varying degrees, intersected with her personal identity. Her Filipino heritage plays an essential role in that identity, “speaking two Filipino languages is very important to me.” Spanish and French are more representative of her interests, and allowed her to grow into her love for language. “But also,” she clarifies, “Spanish ties back to my cultural identity because of Spain’s connection to the Philippines.” The connection she refers to was more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. “That connection made me want to learn Spanish more.”

Puso, which means heart in Tagalog, was the first one that came to mind when asked about her favorite words. “I feel like it encompasses a lot of my identity, what I believe, my core values--everything,” she explains. “In Spanish I have a funny favorite word,” Justine continues with a smile. Desafortunadamente translates to unfortunately in English. “When I first started learning Spanish, it was one of the bigger words that I was able to say.”

Learning a new language might be daunting at first, but it has the potential to change your outlook on the world. So get out there, collegiettes. There’s a lot for you to discover.