My Babbel: First Person' Guest Article: Hi! Hola! Privet! Bonjour! Annyeonghaseyo! Konnichiwa!
Hey #Heartbreakers! Four years ago during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, my life was changed when I realized the beauty and possibility of language learning outside of the walls of my High School. In honor of the United Nations' International Mother Language Day, I wanted to share a Guest Article that I wrote that was published on Babbel: First Person in early 2019. It was such an honor to be able to write this article and share the beginnings of my language learning journey with all of you and other aspiring language learners.
International Mother Language Day "recognizes that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion, and the Sustainable Development Goals' focus on leaving no one behind." I felt today was a unique opportunity to share the article on my website and with all of you. This year's theme of International Mother Language Day is about using technology for multilingual learning which "raises the potential role of technology to advance multilingual education and support the development of quality teaching and learning for all." Access to technology, such as the language learning app Babbel, Zoom, social media and YouTube, and platforms like iTalki, allows language learners (and any type of learner!) the ability to connect with teachers and materials at the touch of their finger tips.
I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've had to expand my world and worldviews through the power of interacting with the world in multiple languages and through their unique and powerful lenses. I truly look forward to continue learning different lanuages (I'm currently on a break!) and seeing how they continue to play into my music and career on my journey! I have a long way to go to achieve my language learning goals, but I'm learning to be proud of every step I take, word I master, and chance to converse. Even the opportunity to just dabble in learning a language is something I love, enjoy and am proud of.
I hope my article below inspires you to embrace the things that you love, who you are, and what you can achieve.
Please note: Unfortunately...my website does not support the characters for some of the languages that I used in my article, so those parts are written below in romanization. You can also read the full article on Babbel: First Person the way in which I intended it to be read and appear (Russian, Japanese, and Korean characters included).
Hi! Hola! Privet! Bonjour! Annyeonghaseyo! Konnichiwa!
My name is Kristina Lachaga, 'The Girl With The Big Pink Heart™.' I'm a pop singer, songwriter, actress, and dancer, and soon, I'd like to be someone who can defy language barriers as well.
My name is Kristina Lachaga, "The Girl With The Big Pink Heart™." I'm a pop singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, smoothie and bubble tea enthusiast, figure skating fan, frequent traveler (by car or plane or train or bus - you name the destination, I'm coming with), and language-learning lover.
Through my many adventures of following my heart's dream (music, the love of my life), I've found that the world is truly as big or as small as you choose to make it. And somehow, everyone speaks and communicates in a few universal languages.
"Up until February of this year, I had only studied Spanish in school. Today, I'm having conversations in 4 languages."
Music is my favorite universal language, and one I speak fluently. As a singer (and fellow music fan!), I know first-hand how this universal language can touch and change someone's life. Whenever a song comes on, we have this amazing opportunity to connect with each other. Through music. Through dance. Through smiles. Without even speaking. Our worlds intersect through the magic of universal languages at work. It just happens, and we are one in that moment.
But to be able to break down the "language barrier" and connect with someone on a deeper level through heart-to-heart conversation on-stage, off-stage, or even on the world stage is next-level. A bit magical, a bit indescribable.
That's something I want to do.
I want to bring people together. I want to make my world and the worlds of those around me BIG. Maybe that's just me - The Girl With The Big Pink Heart™, at work - but it's the truth. I love meeting new people and connecting with them, expanding my circle, and helping others do the same.
I always encourage my fans to #FollowYourHeartsDream™, too. Mine is to sing my heart out for crowds around the world. I also want to embrace the opportunity to connect with people around the world in an even more authentic way: by speaking their language. Even if it's just a few words.
Up until February of this year, I had only studied Spanish in school. Today, I'm having conversations in 4 languages. Correction…I did learn a little French (emphasis on a little) when I was a toddler, but I was a bit more interested in the casse-croûte that was provided with each lesson. I'm sure my mom was a bit disappointed in my apparent lack of interest in the French language as I sat criss-cross applesauce and snacked on crêpes avec mes amies…Bon appétit!
I've always had a special connection with Español though, as my last name is Spanish and my grandfather on my father's side immigrated from Bilbao, the Basque Country of España. I love how unique my last name is and how it connects me to my past. I've studied Spanish since elementary school, and my Saturday mornings from ages 5-12 were dedicated to Flamenco dance lessons, complete with long and flowing black skirts, red roses in my hair, and castanets in hand.
I've used my Spanish to connect with students on an anti-bullying concert tour where I performed at over 150 schools across the country. In Texas, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, I was able to convey part of my message to some students in their first language. I also did interviews during the tour for Telemundo in Philadelphia, and again in Dallas when our tour's equipment was stolen…fun times.
But even though I had only studied Spanish, I found "languages" popping up everywhere in my life throughout my childhood and adolescence.
I was always obsessed with the idea of "the world." Where planes were going; where they're coming from. When I was in Pre-K (and into early elementary school), I told everyone I wanted to work at the Post Office. I wanted to know everyone's business. Seeing where in the world people were mailing letters to, and seeing packages received from all over the world. And all the stamps from around the world? Now that was a dream. I even started a stamp collection in my Barney and Friends scrapbook, which included a lot of foreign stamps.
"I've found that the world is truly as big or as small as you choose to make it."
My friends were diverse, and I often found myself surrounded by friends from faraway countries (France, Brazil, Ukraine, Switzerland, Spain, Korea, Canada) - especially when I was in New York City. We were young, and if English wasn't someone's first language, we always found a way to find the right words. I always loved helping my friends with their English. I was super impressed when they would speak in their native tongue, especially my polyglot friend from Switzerland who spoke 5 languages. I was amazed.
And I knew then, first-hand, how valuable another language could be.
As I started auditioning in New York City for Broadway shows and TV commercials at the age of 9, I proudly touted "speaks Spanish" as a special skill on my resume, but I didn't have too many chances to show it off at the time. Instead, I booked a commercial somewhere between the ages of 12 and 15 where I not only had to learn Russian (phonetically), but sing in the language while dancing in the streets of Manhattan's Financial District for an MTS cell phone commercial.
When I would travel to New York City for auditions on the train, I would often find myself giving directions in Spanish and was able to help quite a few first-time train travelers make their way to and from the city.
And back when I played Baby Louise in the National Tour of the Broadway musical Gypsy, there was a chance that the tour would go to China the summer after the US/Canada run ended. I was obsessed with figuring out how they would understand the lines and songs in the show, and equally bummed when the China leg was scratched.
In middle school and early high school, I dreamt of being a Spanish translator (or at least fluent enough to live in Spain). Helping English-speaking tourists get around Barcelona or Madrid would be a breeze while savoring tapas and meeting cute Spanish chicos.
Even though language was always such a constant in my life, I stopped studying Spanish when I hung up my Spanish Honor Society cord alongside my cap and gown. I found myself relying on what I could remember (and scrambling to fill in the gaps of what I couldn't). I was so tired of feeling like I was forgetting something I loved. Something I missed. But I honestly didn't know what to do about it, so I kept going about my business.
Showing my Olympic Spirit
Until…I learned about the world of app-based language learning during the 2018 Winter Olympics (because who didn't try to learn Korean while the world convened on Pyeongchang, South Korea for 16 inspiring days?). My mind was blown.
Any language at the touch of my fingertips? I honestly don't know how I didn't realize this was a "thing" sooner. I was clearly stuck in my 2013 language-learning methods (hello, textbook! hello, classroom!) and in need of this eye-opener.
"My mobile experience became bigger than Instagram and Snapchat. I could use my phone to brush up on my Spanish, practice Russian declensions, and learn French for my upcoming trip to Montreal."
In February 2018, I started learning a little Korean - a far cry from my Spanish roots. But inspired by my obvious love of the Olympics (major heart eyes) and BTS, of course, I learned Hangul and some not-so-useful phrases about bridges and bugs. My newfound learning methods were quite newbie, I must admit, but I had a lot of fun.
Then my focus shifted to a language I didn't expect to encounter again: Russian. I was again exposed to the Russian language and potentially mind-boggling Cyrillic alphabet while watching the 2018 Olympics and reading social media posts about Evgenia Medvedeva, "moya lyubimaya figuristka" (my favorite figure skater). Even though I've been a fan of hers since I saw her win the 2016 Worlds on TV (she is an incredible skater and even inspired me to get back on the ice this year, but that's another story!), I had never really checked out her social media until the Olympics were underway. But through the "See Translation" tool, I was able to coordinate words and pick up little phrases here and there.
My first phrases in Russian included "eto derevo mne nravitsya" ("I like that tree" - clearly very helpful) and "eto tak stranno i tak kruto" ("That's so weird and so cool!" - a little better, helpful in certain situations). Luckily, I soon learned more useful and relevant phrases like "Privet" (hi!) and "kak dela?" (how are you?). I put these latter phrases to use while speaking with a fellow skater's mom at a figure skating seminar in June. She said I had good pronunciation - thank goodness our conversation was brief, because my knowledge was pretty limited at the time.
I was so amazed that I could use my phone to brush up on my Spanish, practice Russian declensions, and learn French for my upcoming trip to Montreal. My mobile experience became bigger than Instagram and Snapchat. I finally had a way to connect to the language-loving side of me, and I was so happy that I stumbled into this world.
"I walked away with a newfound confidence realizing I could switch between four different languages in a matter of minutes."
At the end of a whirlwind summer of traveling and headlining a concert for the Girl Scouts in Georgia, I heard about the #Babbel7 challenge. I dove in, and I ended up posting videos and text on my Instagram and Twitter for a week…in not one, not two, but three different languages. The languages were: Spanish (my most comfortable language), Russian (a new, but semi-familiar language), and French (my newest and least comfortable language).
I chose three languages because…why not? I'm always up for a challenge! And if I'm going to do a challenge, I might as well go all the way. My very multilingual week served as a crash course and a good evaluation of what I knew, flat out couldn't remember, or simply wanted to know and focus on. It pushed me to tackle topics I hadn't even learned yet and commit myself to improving in a defined period of time. And it was an eye-opening experience.
I also wanted to speak for most of the challenges. I knew I could write what I wanted to say on a photo and move on to whatever else I had to do that day, but I wanted to get the most out of it, and for me, that meant speaking the languages. I walked away with a newfound confidence realizing I could switch between four different languages in a matter of minutes. And I think I took my fans (called #Heartbreakers) and friends by surprise when they watched my Insta Stories that week.
Their response defied my expectations. I didn't know how my followers would react to the sudden bundle of posts that revealed my budding multilingual abilities. It was something I pretty much kept to myself, even the Spanish part. But the #Babbel7 challenge put me closer in touch with my fans from around the world. They were DMing me, replying to my tweets, and commenting on my posts. I heard from fans that are native Spanish speakers, fans that live in Canada and Europe, and even fans that are also learning languages. It was so amazing to start a new conversation with my audience- and in other languages, no less. I loved that they were interested in coming back day after day to watch my #Babbel7 journey on Instagram and Twitter. In one week, I expanded my world and left feeling inspired to keep sharing "fun facts" about myself.
"Language learning has the ability to tie my worlds together - music, singing, writing, traveling, reading, meeting new people, and learning about other cultures."
And no, I can't say I spoke perfectly. And yes, I'm just learning. And no, I don't understand everything I read or hear. And yes, my vocab is limited (but growing!). But yes, I am trying. Yes, I am learning. Yes, I am growing. Yes, I am improving, and I think that counts for a lot.
And yes, I think it's really fun.
Most of all, it meant so much to me that my fans were able to see that side of me - my off-stage, not-singing side. My trying-something-new-in-my-free-time-and-putting-it-out-there-while-not-overly-worrying-about-it-needing-to-be-absolutely-perfect side. It was surprisingly freeing.
I found that along with a daily routine and my phone, language learning has the ability to tie my worlds together - music, singing, writing, traveling, reading, meeting new people, and learning about other cultures - and wraps them all together to create a world I absolutely love with all my heart. Parts of it were things I didn't see coming, and it's so exciting.
Every day when I scroll through social media, I see a whirlwind of words. Some I understand. Some I don't (yet). Some I may never understand. But one thing I can take from all the characters strung together to form a message is: the desire to be understood.
When someone comments on their favorite singers' Instagram, even if we can't understand what they wrote, the message is still the same: the desire to relate.
When an artist takes the stage in another country and greets the audience in the audience's native language, the message is the same: that you care. You care enough to relate, care enough to be understood, care enough to try. And when the screams grow louder in the stadium and the hearts pound harder and the excitement reaches an all-time high, you know:
The message is received,
received and understood,
understood and felt,
felt and remembered.
When I look to the future, I want to be an ambassador for the connection between myself and my fans. I want to connect our worlds. As I continue to study and add tools to my language toolbox, I would love to be able to collaborate and tour with international artists, write songs in multiple languages, do press in other languages, and communicate authentically with more people around the world. I'm excited to see where my music (and languages!) take me around the globe and in life.
Yes, they're lofty goals, and achieving balance is difficult when juggling my many interests. But I love watching the world around me grow through language. How it can become so much bigger, so limitless. Word by word.
This article originally appeared on Babbel: First Person on January 3, 2019. Read the full article on Babbel: First Person's website.
Hope you enjoy!!
love, the girl with the big pink heart™
Text HEARTBREAKER to 33222 to receive your #Heartbreaker Welcome Pack, a free song download, hear a sneak peek of Kristina's new music, get exclusive updates, 1st access, and more! (US Fans Only)