Meet LeDonna Jackson, a Chicago-based language coach who loves blogging about language, culture, and travel.
LeDonna is a certified Neurolanguage Coach® and the founder of Discovering Language (discoveringlanguage.com) where she provides language and travel resources. She has studied 6 languages to varying degrees of competency and she’s also a co-host for the Sisters Only Language Summit. LeDonna is a member of Chicago Travel Massive.
Read more about LeDonna’s story.
What inspired your fascination for languages?
Although I was introduced to other languages at a young age it wasn’t until high school that I became interested in learning them. Like everyone else, I had to take two years of a foreign language to graduate. Eventually, I realized that knowing another language opened me up to even more media I could consume. It was mind-blowing.
In my sophomore year, I won a scholarship to do a student exchange in Germany for a month. That was it for me. I knew then that I would always want German in my life. Going on that trip is actually what sparked my love of travel as well! Been hooked ever since.
By college, I was studying my third or fourth language and I realized that I loved grammar. I know, what a dork right? But being able to recognize patterns in sentence structure almost feels like a game to me. It’s one of the many reasons I plan on going back to school for my Masters.
What do you enjoy most about learning a new language?
Definitely the cultural aspect. To me, language and culture are so intertwined that you can never really understand one without the other.
When I’m studying a language I’m also studying the food, the music, the holidays, the customs. It’s a whole experience. And that includes languages that I don’t plan on being fluent in! I have a rudimentary grasp of Spanish, but it went a long way on my trip to Tarragona. I’d paid for an older gentleman’s bus fair and he wanted to thank me. When he realized that my Spanish was pretty much nonexistent he switched to French! My French is basic but it was enough for us to have a pleasant conversation for the remainder of the bus ride.
Language truly is a gateway to connecting with people in new ways no matter where you are.
How does diversity play a role in tourism and how can the industry be more inclusive?
From a traveler perspective, the best thing the tourism industry can do is be honest with themselves and with us. As a Black American woman who travels solo, there are certain precautions that I just know I have to take. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced any overtly hostile racism during my travels but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. It also doesn’t mean I don’t get them.
Part of that is knowing the culture of the place I’m visiting. Researching how black women who have traveled to these places have been treated. Knowing super base-level laws that may be different from those in the US. Reading what other black travelers liked and didn’t like, and then taking what resonates with me into account when I do my planning.
Industry folks: Understand that our needs can be different, no matter how insignificant it may seem. And then maybe those of us who are more likely to be adversely affected when those needs aren’t met (BIPOC, LGBT+, disabled, etc.) would feel more comfortable taking the chance. The world is beautiful and enormous. We should all have the opportunity to explore it safely and comfortably.
What destinations are good places to learn a new language?
You probably don’t have to go as far as you think. If you’re stateside, any larger city likely has a large population of immigrants from all around the world. Here in Chicago, I can hear Polish, Spanish, Arabic, or even Korean if I visit the right neighborhoods. It’s also a great way to engage with your community.
With the times being as they are, try supporting local businesses and practicing your language skills at the same time!
What tips would you give to people want to learn languages?
Take your time. It’s not a race. Your language learning journey is just that, your own. You don’t have to learn the same way everyone else does. You don’t even need to be fluent in that’s not in line with personal goals.
Make sure whatever way you choose to learn is fun for you. You can use music, movies, or you can be a square like me and use textbooks. There’s a whole world of options out there. Don’t feel beholden to any one way!
– Thanks, LeDonna, for sharing your story with our community!