I met Mohammad Naseer just recently at Montclair State University where he is studying Public Health. He appeared to be very serious and committed to his academic life to such an extent that he admitted spending most of his time here at the library working on another assignment. Once there was actually a chance to talk to him and get him out of the highly intense academic life for a while, Mohammad Naseer started seeming like someone who has a lot to talk about with and say.
The English language instruction he got was fairly traditional for his home country of Afghanistan. He did an English course and read newspapers using a dictionary. Paying for the course was a financial burden for the family. He also spoke English to himself. “English is not just a language but it’s knowledge”, says Mohammad Naseer. According to him, being able to speak English well is something that makes a person feel superior but now after being in the USA for a while his perception has shifted and having gained a high level of proficiency, he currently feels confident.
That was the introduction of modern technology and popular art that caused the focus of the English language instruction to shift in Afghanistan, Mohammad Naseer believes. People don’t have to study in an “isolated environment” any more. It might seem ironical but working knowledge of English alone might land one a good job here leaving more highly qualified professionals with no command of English struggling in the labor market.
Pashto and Dari are the national languages of Afghanistan and besides them, Mohammad Naseer speaks Hindi, which he considers to be the “blessing” of the Bollywood film industry. He understands Arabic due to the religious instruction he got back at school, but not being capable of using it and having full-blown conversations is something he sees as standing in the way of him making friends with native speakers of this language, which he sees as merely an element of the culture that takes a lot more to acquire and get the sense of.
Mohammad Naseer admits that being multilingual might cause one to switch personalities. In his own experience, speaking English makes him feel more friendly, formal and accommodating, while speaking the two national languages of his country he feels free to be whatever he chooses to be. Hindi opens up his romantic side that is inspired by the Indian cinematography. Probably Mohammad Naseer is looking to enhance that as he is interested to learn another romantic language – French – in the future.
Listening and refraining from stereotyping is what he believes is able to make one’s experience in a new country as positive as his. As we are all human beings after all, we must open up to whoever comes our way and that is how we are more likely to find that, e.g., contrary popular belief, not all Americans are arrogant and superficial. I hope Mohammad Naseer will continue to enjoy his break from the ordinary professional routine and keep making the most of the stimulating academic environment of this country.