Notes: Conservation and Research Officer, Latin America
My name is Arnaud Desbiez and I am a conservation biologist. I work for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland as their regional conservation and research officer for Latin America.
I am a French man living in Brazil working for a Scottish Charity...speaking several languages comes in handy!
Where did you grow up? What languages did you learn?
I grew up in the USA and France, my family moved back and forth every 4-5 years. I basically learned both English and French together.
What role has knowing other languages played in your life?
I speak English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Languages have played a central role in my life and the ability to pick up languages quickly has been key. I moved to Brazil for a research project when I was 28 and did not speak a word of Portuguese, but since Portuguese is quite similar to Spanish and French I picked it up quickly and I have been living in Brazil ever since.
Some people maintain that speaking English is enough. What would you say to that, especially with regard to the field of sciences?
You need to know at least two languages as others are then much easier to learn. It is important to train your brain to switch from one language to the other, once you can do that it becomes much easier to learn other languages. For scientific articles the international language is English, however if you want to interact with other cultures and scientists you need to know other languages.
What in your opinion are the advantages of knowing even a little of the language of the host country you are in?
It is just common courtesy to know a little bit of the language of your host country, even if you can only speak a few words people will be so pleased that you are trying. Not trying, not making any effort to learn a little bit of the local language will come off as arrogant and rude.
I worked in Nepal and learned the basics of Nepali and this really facilitated all contacts with the locals and made everyone so kind towards me.
What other benefits are there to knowing languages?
It will help you integrate with people and cultures much faster. I have ended up adopting Brazil as my home, my wife is from here and our two children were born here.
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