Kevin B.

"Don't waste the incredible opportunity you have at your age and at a world-class institution like UW-Madison to acquire another language fluently. The Untied States lags far behind in language skills on the global stage, and I can personally attest to the value in taking advantage of these opportunities while you have them."

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Major(s) and Certificate(s): International Studies (Global Security), African Studies Certificate, Global Cultures Certificate

Language(s): Yoruba

Graduation Year: 2012

Current city: New York, NY

What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?

I have worked as a freelance translator and interpreter for the Department of Defense worked in the entertainment industry in Nigeria and worked in project management and business development for a communications consulting firm based in New York that developed and executed nation branding initiatives for heads of state in African and Middle Eastern countries. I recently “took the leap” to start my own consulting and private equity firm.

What motivated you to study this/these languages?

I have played drums for over a decade and studied Cuban and Brazilian music in high school. I always learned that the roots of many of these rhythms originated in Nigeria. When I had the opportunity to enroll in a FIG centered around Yoruba language and culture, it sounded like a great way to broaden my horizons while simultaneously satisfying my general education requirements.

How have these languages enriched your life?

I studied Yoruba to a high degree of proficiency through UW Language classes and an intensive year-long study abroad program in Nigeria, made possible by grants and programs from the Language Flagship and the Boren Scholarship. Learning Yoruba to a native proficiency literally changed my life, worldview, and has greatly shaped my path for the future. Learning another language is like discovering another version of yourself, and it is a key that opens many doors, particularly if you know a less-commonly-taught language from a part of the world that is critical to politics, business, or security. Learning a language to a high degree of proficiency enables you to be an intrinsically more empathetic person and helps you build bridges where others cannot. In my own life and career, speaking Yoruba has been a golden key to many doors that most people cannot open. It has enabled me to understand a culture that is widely misunderstood but houses many hidden lucrative business opportunities. My language skills have also enabled me to build a network of globally-recognized mentors, politicians, and business leaders I would otherwise have no way to build rapport with.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?

Language classes were intense and frequent, though this was necessary for success in learning. Daily homework, a heavy class load, and mandatory other activities (such as language table) helped me to naturally learn the language without feeling like I was forcing it too much while maintaining a good balance of schedule at the same time. I was fortunate to have incredible teachers who had an amazing ability to motivate, act as examples, and enable students to do their best. We had an extremely wide variety of materials we used to learn from (movies, newspaper articles, textbooks, radio shows, skits, essays, and other projects) which kept the curriculum far from redundant or boring.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?

Studying abroad was invaluable. Although none of my experiences were on UW programs (I had to withdraw as a student for a year), living with a traditional host family and studying at a university in the target language had a larger impact on my language learning than any classroom activity could have. My program also included two internships abroad in Nigeria. This experience enabled me to truly encapsulate not only the nuances of linguistic expression but also the culture, a critical component for one’s dexterity in Nigerian society. I cannot emphasize the value and importance of a language and cultural immersion program to one’s language development enough. This experience, although not the most enjoyable at all times, gave me an experience in just nine months that most traditional expatriates require over five years to develop in the Nigerian context. Since studying abroad, I have attracted a great deal of global attention from Nigerians all over the world who are amazed and fascinated with my dexterity in their language and culture.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?  

After graduating, I was determined to utilize the valuable linguistic gift I had gained and learned in college. I took it upon myself to further broaden and strengthen my network of contacts in Nigeria. I seek every possible opportunity to utilize the language and still speak it everyday. I also watch Nigerian movies, listen to radio from Nigeria, and read the news and social media in Yoruba to keep my skills strong. I have spent an additional year and a half working in Nigeria since I graduated and still go back several times per year.

What advice do you have for current language students?

“Go big or go home.” A language is most useful when you speak it very fluently—the more you learn, the more doors it will open. Being a good communicator is an asset that can unlock other potentials and talents you may have. Being truly bi- or trilingual in and of itself is enough to lay the foundation for a lucrative and rewarding career. Spending significant time abroad immersed in a foreign culture and language is the best way to naturally learn a language and unlock your intrinsic potential to understand it. It also will change the way you see the world and add years of wisdom to your life.

Do not pass up this incredible opportunity! Don’t waste the incredible opportunity you have at your age and at a world-class institution like UW-Madison to acquire another language fluently. The United States lags far behind in language skills on the global stage, and I can personally attest to the value in taking advantage of these opportunities while you have them.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?

Orí — a Yoruban word that means “your intrinsic spirit/voice/guiding force.” It is an important concept in culture and has no direct translation in English.