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Endless possibilities in life when one is multilingual


Allan Aringo, 42, is one of Kenya’s renowned polyglots with a mastery of six languages: French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, English and Kiswahili. He is the CEO of Language Experts, a language translator, an interpreter and a lecturer of Spanish at the United States International University.

At what point did you decide you wanted to be multilingual?

It started at Jamhuri High School in Nairobi where I learnt French. I found it fascinating. My high school nickname was “Alliance Française” because I loved French. Madame Ogumbo, my French teacher then, encouraged me to pursue French after high school.

And you followed her advice?

Of course, I did. I started off as a French private tutor. In 1997, I left for the United States where I studied at Richland College and later at Texas A &M Commerce, where I learnt Spanish. In 2001, I was back at Alliance Française in Nairobi where I did the Diplome Approfondi de Langue Française (DALF C1). Later I did the Diploma de Espanol Como Lengua Extranjera, an advanced diploma in Spanish in Instituto Cervantes. In 2010, I took up Portuguese at Kenyatta University. In 2011, I enrolled for Italian at the Italian Institute in Nairobi.

You teach, interpret and translate all the six language…

I have taught Spanish at all levels, primary (Kenton College), secondary (Precious Blood) and now at university level (USIU). There is a huge interest in Spanish and USIU offers great resources for learning. I also enjoy translating and interpretation.

As an active member of toastmasters, how has public speaking improved your career?

Almost everything I do in my career involves speaking (teaching, interpreting, training and motivational speaking). Toastmasters has offered me invaluable resources and helped me to improve my communication skills and confidence.

Do you ever confuse these languages, especially during interpretation?

No. I prepare mentally to avoid confusion. I learned each language at a time hence I have a unique mastery in each of them. Interpretation is real time and requires a lot of attention and there are professional techniques to help in maintaining that attention.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy travelling to different destinations globally. It is not repetitive….I am always dealing with a different issue.

What is your most memorable experience?

My best assignment in my seven-year career was in February 2015 at State House, Nairobi, when the former vice-president of Spain, Maria Fernandez de la Vega, paid a courtesy call on President Uhuru Kenyatta and I was appointed the designate interpreter from English into Spanish and Spanish into English.

Would you encourage the youth to follow your footsteps?

Absolutely. Being a multilingual opens you up to the world both professionally and socially. It, however, takes a lot of dedication, skill and patience to attain mastery.

How would learning a foreign language open up the youth to the world in terms of opportunities?

There are so many bilateral and multilateral accords on trade. People with competitive language skills will find themselves facilitating communication between companies and governments.

What can you say is the biggest challenge in the interpretation and translation industry?

There are very many unscrupulous people who don’t have the integrity and honesty that the industry requires.

How do you keep yourself abreast of the language market?

I read widely and also do refresher courses, which offer constant improvement and make me more competitive.

What do you ultimately want to do with these languages?

I want to open a language and a cultural centre in the near future. I intend to spread my wings to various countries in the fields of interpretation and translation.

What is the greatest highlight of your polyglot journey?

Being able to communicate with native speakers in languages that I had to learn.

Your biggest support system in your career?

The Embassies of the United States of America, Italy, Spain and Belgium allowed me to travel to their countries during my “journey of languages”, by providing visas. While I have visited many other countries, these four embassies were instrumental as they facilitated my learning of languages as well as the development of my professional career. My Portuguese course was sponsored by The Embassy of Brazil in Kenya.

What is your biggest regret in life?

Not believing enough in what I could do and achieve and so, fearing to take big steps.

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