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5+ Languages and Counting… This Surrey Student is Just Getting Started

5+ languages learned, and he’s just getting started. Meet Anthony Pereira-Costa. A 25-year-old, only child, SFU grad, and current UBC Teaching Program candidate. Born and raised in Surrey; a lover of languages, nature, faith, history and genealogy. He is a continuous learner all things culture – whether that be trying out different ethnic foods, or adding new languages to his long list of repertoire. He’s enthusiastic, he’s kind, he’s wise beyond his years, and he is Surrey’s unofficial global citizen for his love and passion towards learning language.

As you can guess by his last name, Anthony is Portuguese. He is of 100% Portuguese ancestry, with his family hailing from the Azorean Island of Flores. For those who are not aware of the Azores Islands, they are an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic ocean. Referred to as the “Hawaii” of the Atlantic, they lay about 1,360 km west of continental Portugal, and nearly 1,925 km southeast of Newfoundland. As the name of the island implies, Flores, is named after “flowers” because of it’s famous wild hydrangea plants covering it’s land.

Coming from an immigrant family, he was always exposed to the Portuguese culture and language, and it became something he naturally integrated into his life. “I have been involved in the Portuguese community of the Lower Mainland since I was little, carrying flags in the parade…My Grandpa Pereira was involved in the Espirito Santo Festas from the beginning, and my Grandma Costa always volunteered at the Portuguese Church.” With this specific familial cultural exposure from a very young age came an opportunity for learning the Portuguese language. From there, the love of languages grew.

When I was in grade 2, my aunt bought me an interactive atlas on CD-ROM. It had countries…most had a list of phrases in that country’s languages. That introduced me to Chinese, Swahili, Arabic, Hindi and more.” He recalls his elementary school having an ESL classroom nearby his own class as well, and he always passed by the room seeing a poster with images of students from different countries saying hello in their languages. “I grew up in a fairly multicultural school where lots of people had second languages.”

As a teen, Pereira-Costa began buying phrasebooks and began learning language in a more structured way. He started attending Portuguese evening classes, and taking French class in the high school setting. French opened doors to the other Latin languages, and then came the curiosity to pick up languages such as Turkish, Korean, Croatian by means of using phrasebooks. “I never was aware of a motivation [to speak languages]. I just gravitated to these different sounds and ways of expressing the same sentiment in different ways.” In high school, he also recalls picking up CDs and a guide book for Scottish, Gaelic and Irish. And if you’ve already lost count on all these languages, there’s more! “Also, in high school, I asked my friends of Punjabi, Pakistani, Vietnamese, and Filipino background to teach me some phrases.”

I ask Anthony as to what are some of his favourite languages, and he responded as expected, with full enthusiasm, “Oh so many! I frequently ask myself what languages I’d like to know and I can’t count less than 10 at least!” He continues by elaborating on the following:

  • “Portuguese! Galician too, like Portuguese but has a more Castilian pronunciation.”
  • “Castilian Spanish. Italian. So fluid! Greek is fun, the sound of it. Even Latin is really interesting! (I listen to Gregorian chants).”
  • “Celtic languages! It’s sad they’re so depleted, but I really like the sound of Gaelic, Welsh, Irish. It’s also a connection to my ancient Lusitanian ancestors who spoke a Celtic (or pre-Celtic) language before the Romans conquered.”
  • “I also like Arabic and Berber for their role in my Portuguese history (and knowing my patrilineal DNA haplogroup is a Berber genetic marker).”
  • “Georgian is so cool! I love their alphabet. Slavic languages are fun. Swahili is. I wish I knew more African languages. Cantonese is my favourite Chinese language although I know more Mandarin.”
  • “Indigenous languages in Canada are super cool and not thought about enough. Halqemeylem is really cool, so different but so connected to the land where I live. I have a lot of indigenous language apps, again, for fun. But also to pay respect and I think it’s interesting.”

Anthony can speak 5 languages fluently: English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian. But that’s not stopping him from expanding into more. As Anthony put it, “language is often very embedded in culture,” and “languages are a way to connect people to the past….ancestral pasts.” Language can provide an opportunity to build connections between cultures; and with greater connections equals greater opportunity for inclusion and community building.

When explaining how language knowledge can make a difference in our community in Surrey, Pereira-Costa provides one language in particular in his repertoire as an example. “Punjabi is useful as it’s the second most spoken language in the city.” “Knowing some basic phrases in other languages is certainly useful to make connection with people you don’t know. It makes people smile; it surprises them; it shows that you care about them.”

I asked Pereira-Costa for tips for anyone wanting to learn different languages, and this is the list he came up with:

  • “Don’t be afraid to speak (well, find some nice people though who won’t make you feel bad for your mistakes to practice with).”
  • “Translate things in your head as you do them (I am locking my front door, Eu estou trancando a minha porta) (I’m waiting for the bus, J’attends l’autobus).”
  • “Watching videos about the language. Not the words, but the history of it, etc.”
  • “Use Lonely Planet phrasebooks as they have a pretty decent grammar section at the beginning. No endorsements.”
  • Figure out how a sentence is worded in the language. (Vamos falar com o Jose= we-go to-speak with the Jose).”

And when it comes to his future in teaching, I prompted Anthony to tell me more about his motivation to become a teacher. He explained how he wants to have meaningful employment, putting his love of history, geography, and genealogy to good use. “I always find myself explaining things to people, and I’m told [that] I’m decent at it.” He then proceeds to share a discovery he found in his genealogy explorations. “According to what I’ve found, I am descended from a knight in the order of Santiago, and of Egas Moniz, the tutor of King Afonso Henriques, when he was a boy.

But who knows!” “My end goal is to hopefully get some kids interested and excited about history, socials, life in general rather than the apathy that is often present in high schools.” With his immense passion for learning, and enthusiasm towards sharing knowledge and bringing those together through language and cultural awareness, Anthony acts as Surrey’s unofficial global citizen. Only great things lie ahead for this proud, Surrey citizen, both inside the teaching profession, and in our greater community.

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn is a status-quo disruptor, an old-soul, and has a serious passion towards continuous learning driven by a curiosity for the unknown. A creative and equally analytical thinker with experience in leadership, project management and marketing strategy. When she’s not working you can find her in the kitchen, searching for new music, or meandering local thrift stores, antique stores, or flea markets for a unique find.