GEORGE TOWN: WHILE many who come to Penang add on the kilos after years of living in the food paradise, one African native made use of the multilingual environment to master languages.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) lecturer Dr Mohamed Abdou Moindjie is able to speak French, English, Arabic, Spanish, German, Malay, Swahili, Comoran, Russian and Mandarin.
Mohamed considered this a big achievement because when he first arrived in Malaysia, he could speak only four languages.
“I do not think I could have learnt these many languages if I had stayed in my country, Comoros, in southeast Africa.
“I find Malaysia to be a good place to study languages because it is a multicultural and multilingual country,” said the polyglot at his office at USM’s School of Languages, Literacies and Translation here recently.
Mohamed said Malaysia’s multilingualism was an asset to those who wanted to learn many languages.
“If I want to learn Mandarin, I can easily find people who speak the language. But if I were in say, France, it would have been very difficult to find people speaking any other language than French.”
Mohamed said Malaysians were able to switch effortlessly between languages.
“The multilingualism factor attracts people from other countries to come here and learn.
“It is definitely a good asset for a developing country like Malaysia. Today, we see many countries encouraging their people to learn more languages, especially the major ones.”
Mohamed said he learnt French during his primary schooling years as it was the official language of his country.
He added that he picked up Arabic and English in Khartoum, Sudan, where he completed his secondary schooling years.
“In Sudan, the official language is Arabic. It was during that time that I realised how important it was to know more languages.”
Mohamed said his arrival in Malaysia, where he had spent nine years at USM, was fated.
“I was teaching in a secondary school in Comoros. One day, during a routine visit to the Education Ministry, I saw a notice about countries that one can go to for postgraduates studies.
“Malaysia attracted me as it was a completely new place. I decided to send an application to USM, which was the only local university in the list.”
Mohamed said he did his master’s degree from 2001 to 2003.
“I completed my PhD in 2006 and decided to go back to Sudan. In 2014, while I was at the University of Comoros, I was offered a teaching position in USM.
“I accepted and lived in Malaysia for another two years before my contract ended in 2016. I went back after my contract ended and resumed teaching at the University of Comoros, where I later became the head of languages,” he added.
Mohamed said last year, he heard that USM was hiring foreign lecturers. He decided to apply and was accepted.
At USM, whenever he had time, he would often register for new language courses.
Mohamed said of all the languages he had learnt, Mandarin was the toughest.
“The difficult languages are usually gender languages, such as French, German, Arabic and Spanish, which have feminine and masculine references, but I learnt these languages easily.
“Although Mandarin grammar is simple and not dramatically different, it’s a tonal language and its characters were difficult to write.
“I would not say it cannot be learnt but it needs lots of exercise in terms of character writing,” he said, adding that every language had its own challenges.