If you can speak a language other than English well enough to hold a conversation, then congratulations, you’re among a mere 26% of adult Americans or 54% of Europeans.
But we’d like you to meet Belina Bubenik, a 14-year-old New Jersey girl whose life is like any other teenager’s with just one exception: she already knows 7 languages. How could this be, and when does she have time for Netflix or just chilling?
“My daughter Belina studies Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and French. She also takes a music class, she’s learning piano with Josh, an online tutor from Preply. Her dream is to become an international ambassador”, says Bianca, a mother of two and a native German.
The Blind Side
It was Bianca who inspired Belina to learn her first foreign language, though it was actually her fourth after learning English, German, and Czech natively within the home. At the age of six Belina started to take Mandarin Chinese classes when the family considered moving to China. Although her family abandoned their plans to relocate, Belina didn’t abandon her classes.
“Three years ago my neighbor, an Indian lady, recommended I try online classes for my daughter,” says Bianca. “At that time her son was studying on Preply, so I decided to give it a try. On the Preply website I found our first Skype tutor for French.”
Soon mother and daughter added once a week Spanish and Russian classes to Belina’s routine. Belina started off with each language at the beginner level and now she proudly shows off her progress: she has reached intermediate skills in most languages, understands a great deal, and can converse with her tutors or skype with Russian friends.
“Even piano lessons are fun to have online and they are much cheaper. If you had to go somewhere locally, it could run you $60–70 an hour”, says Belina’s mother. Thanks to Preply, however, Bianca pays only $8 an hour online. “How can you go wrong? I don’t have to drive her anywhere. She can do it all from home and it’s very convenient. I love the idea of her taking courses online.”
Not every teenager can stay so motivated and goal-oriented for such a long period of time. “But I’m her mother, it was my initiative and I gently push her. I always say, ‘OK, come on! Let’s do it!’ I stay on top of her and do all the email writing and class scheduling so that she can just open her iPad and follow her lessons. But I’m lucky that Belina is so interested in studying online.”
Around the world
As one of 2 million students traveling for language learning in the world today (a figure forecast to rise to 2.5 million by 2020), Belina goes every summer to an international summer camp to practice her skills in Spanish, German, Russian, and French. “English is the global language, but I like to put myself in other people’s shoes and communicate with them in their native language, not just mine.”
“English is the global language, but I like to put myself
in other people’s shoes and communicate with them in their native language, not just mine.”
“I was a very shy person in the beginning,” the teenager says. “After more than 160 hours of classes on Preply, learning languages has somehow made me feel more comfortable about myself.” She felt a little different from her classmates, but speaking languages helped her draw closer to other people. “Also I’ve become better in actually understanding a language. I know what to look for and what to focus on from the things I’ve learned”.
Choosing a Tutor
As Preply provides a whole variety of classes and tutors with different backgrounds, experience, age, gender and time zones, the teenager never stops studying. Bianca enjoys having a wide selection of teachers available to her. “My daughter has stayed with the same Russian tutor for more than two years already, but once Belina’s French teacher was no longer available, so we had to find another one. It can get a little complicated because the time zone gets in the way. We’re on New York time and our native teachers are mostly in Europe or South America. Still, we always find teachers to work with us. If my daughter or I don’t like one teacher, I can always try another. Preply makes that easy.”
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the first impression is very important. “I like when teachers introduce themselves with a smile on their face, use humor to help you along the way, and allow you to move at slower or faster pace”, says the teenager.
Most people see their teachers as role models and so does Belina. The girl likes to think that one day she’ll be able to speak the language fluently like her teacher. That’s why she says it’s extremely important to study with the native speakers: they know the environment, the country, all the do’s and don’ts, grammatical tricks, and slang. All the teachers that Belina has had on Preply have been native speakers. That really helps if one wants to excel in a certain language. “If a teacher is not a native, then she’s kind of learning with you, while a native speaker knows exactly what she’s saying,” explains Belina.
“To be the best you need to excel,
and to excel you need to be at your best”.
My grandmother once said: “To be the best you need to excel, and to excel you need to be at your best”. That was a real inspiration for me and I think about those words of hers often.”
Good – Better – Best
What helps Belina stay motivated and focused on her goal? At school she learned the following motto: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better is your best.” This teenager motivates herself to always do her best, to excel above the rest and try her hardest even if sometimes it might not work. “I learn from my mistakes,” Belina says. “Every time I have a class or a lesson, if there’s something I don’t understand, then I make sure I understand it so I can stay at the top of the class and my brain is working at full capacity.”
But of course, things don’t always go so smoothly. Feeling pressure to meet a schedule, digest huge amounts of information, and continually set one’s goals high can lead to the opposite effect: lack of motivation. Belina admits that such moments are rare for her, but this is when her mother Bianca helps a lot. “My mom is a really big part of my studies, she pushes me when it’s necessary. If I don’t want to do something, she’ll tells me, ‘Look, if you do this this, imagine how much better you’ll be.’ So, if I ever feel down, I look at the causes and effects of my laziness: if I don’t do this, what will happen, and if I did this then would will happen?”
“Good, better, best. Never let it rest.
Till your good is better and your better is your best.”
The Future of Education
Modern technology makes everything so much easier. Belina and her classmates use Google Classroom on a daily basis, where their teacher uploads assignments, videos and documents that students can access at any time. The teenager says that the more technology is used in education, the better education will be. Belina and some of her friends are already up to speed with new virtual reality technologies and have their own VR headsets that they’re waiting to use educationally: being able to see different places without having to travel far away, viewing real-life scenes as if you were there.
According to a worldwide report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, almost half of all companies that are hiring say that prospective candidates need to be fluent in a foreign language, and a further 13% say that multilingual ability is a key criterion for selection. Instead of focusing on a particular language, Belina’s dream is to make languages her profession. She is currently preparing for high school and is aiming for High Tech High. She still has time to choose her future occupation and is considering becoming a doctor, musician, or an international ambassador. “I would like to travel to different countries where I can communicate and be around other people, help them, help different countries come together and become allies. Maybe I could be a teacher myself and help students succeed in their goals”.