Q&A with a Quadrilingual


Patel began learning a second language in his kindergarten year (left) and is currently learning his fourth language as a sophomore (right).

Finn Nowacki, Staff Writer

It is a sunny weekday morning –not a surprise down in the Sunshine State. It is just an average day for most of the kids in Tampa. They wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed and go to school. However, for sophomore Mitul Patel, this is no average day: this was his first day of school in his new country, over 8,542 miles away from his old home. Additionally, he didn’t speak a lick of English.

Patel’s family moved from the Gujarat Province of India to Tampa, Florida in 2014 in search of better education for his sister and him. Before moving to the United States, Patel was able to speak two languages fluently.

“I grew up with Gujarati, a language spoken primarily in Gujarat. I’m pretty sure I was in school learning Hindi when I was in India,” Patel said. “I was in India for six years, so you had to speak those. They are quite important; it is the whole basis of communication there since they obviously don’t know English.”

When Patel moved to the U.S., he knew one of his biggest struggles from the beginning would be learning the local language.

“It should have been impossible to learn technically,” Patel said. “I couldn’t understand them since they would’ve tried to explain English to me in English. I had to try and figure it out at home with the help of my cousins, who could speak English.”

Even though it was challenging, he was slowly able to do it.

“After about a week of first grade, I had finally felt I had learned it,” Patel said. “I had felt masterful, that I had a grasp on the language and could finally speak.”

Even after learning three languages, Patel still was not done; he is currently training to become a quadrilingual, meaning that he speaks four languages fluently.

“I started to learn Spanish in fourth grade,” Patel said. “I commonly and frequently incorporate Spanish in my common speech at school, mainly because it is good practice but it’s also been a habit at this point.”

While Patel has learned and is learning many languages, he does have mixed feelings about them.

“At first I felt like it was annoying, and I still kinda do, cause they just give a lot of busy work at school, but I do think it is fun,” he said. “It is fun learning something completely unknown. It’s like when you learn a new game: it’s fun until you’ve done it for awhile, but with language it is harder to get bored since there is so much more to do.”

Patel says he often thinks about what languages he uses for what purposes.

“I feel like when I’m being more genuine with my feelings and more serious overall, I think in Gujarati (my more dominant of the two native tongues). When I’m more laughing and making jokes also with just friends, my thoughts go with English. When I’m speaking English, I think I have a much more lax and respectable self. With Gujarati, I think I am more strict and focused/determined. I know that last part doesn’t make sense but it’s the best way I could describe it.”

With all of the knowledge that Patel has on languages, some might ask: is he happy with what he has accomplished?

“Yeah! I think it’s something to be proud of. I consistently try to maintain my knowledge on each of them because they are responsible for connecting me to many people and losing them risks cutting off a connection forever.”