Every Monday night, the CLS hosts Open Hours, a time for all language learners at Brown to come together and enjoy casual conversation and community in the languages they are learning. Facilitating these conversations are volunteers who are experienced in the various languages and who give their time to support and engage with learners of all levels. We would like to introduce you to one of these volunteers ----
Lyubov (Luba) Niemann is the Chief of Staff at the Office of EVP for Finance and Administration. She grew up in Kazakhstan, and her favorite Thayer Street restaurant is by CHLOE. because it shows that vegetarian food can be delicious, too! Luba leads Russian Open Hours on Monday from 6pm - 7pm EDT.
What languages do you know? What languages do you want to learn?
For me, language learning is a lifelong journey. My native language is Russian, and that’s what I grew up speaking and learned in school. When I was 10, I started learning English, and after graduating from high school I majored in English in university. In college, I also studied Kazakh, Latin, German, and Spanish. After graduating, I worked in the international assistance field, as part of the U.S. Embassy’s mission in Kazakhstan. My job included interpreting in high-level government meetings from English to Russian and Russian to English and translating documents. Later, I got a master’s in business and economics because I wanted to play a more active role in the international development field. Because of the type of work I did, I got to travel to other countries and learn their languages and cultures. For example, my work took me to Ukraine, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Haiti, and Tunisia. Now, I’m actively studying French with the Alliance Française of Providence. I’m also fascinated by East Asian languages, so it would be great to try those as well. Language learning does not stop; I’ve always learned languages, and I see myself taking more courses in the future.
What’s your favorite part about teaching and learning languages?
Since I’m a staff member working in administration, Open Hours is one of the only opportunities I get to interact with students face-to-face. It’s great to get to know them and I always find Brown students very inspiring. Russian is not the easiest language to learn for an English speaker, so I’m always amazed by the level that Russian students here demonstrate, even with little experience. They’re just unbelievable! Their skill and interest constantly challenge me to think about how to engage with them. As for learning, I feel that learning other languages helps me to better understand my own, Russian and English. It’s fascinating how concepts, words and even grammatical structures are borrowed as cultures interact; and in that exchange, words preserve the grain of the original meaning, but are at the same time transformed into something different. That’s always interesting to me: how languages interact with each other, how words are borrowed, and how different ideas move along, change, and assimilate.
Was there any time when language learning was more than just the language to you?
I don’t think it’s possible to separate language from culture, because language expresses culture. There are so many intersections there. Culture, history, beliefs help shape the way we speak. Even if you look at idioms or popular sayings in a given language, you can see parts of history and culture ingrained in them. It’s not possible to learn a language in isolation!