The second person who is getting interviewed is our beloved Malachi Rempen from Itchy Feet Comic, one of the most successful language/travel-themed online comics. Based from Berlin, every Sunday he uploads a new comic strip based on his experiences and other curious aspects of foreign languages and cultures.
Without further ado…
- Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?
I’m half American, half German, all New Mexican, baby. I am a freelance filmmaker by trade, doing mostly web commercials and short documentaries and so on, but I do lots of different things to “occupy” myself. I keep myself well-occupied. My main big project right now, aside from Itchy Feet, is The Merry Mariner (www.themerrymariner.com), a series of children’s adventure/fantasy books I’m writing and illustrating.
- How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?
What’s more motivating than love? I met an Italian girl a few years back. Her English was so-so, my Italian was non-existent, so we were forced to learn each other’s languages. And now she’s my wife! Also, living in France and Morocco gave me the impetus to learn French, and being half German inspired me to pick up my father’s language. It was a great personal moment for me when I was able to speak to him for the first time in his native tongue.
- Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
- Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
Anyone learning a foreign language knows that it’s just a long series of hard moments, embarrassments and faux pas coming one after another tirelessly like an opponent boxer’s jabs and hooks. Eventually, as you get better, you learn to duck and dodge, or at least get up faster when you’re knocked down by failure. I think all language troubles stem from fear–fear of sounding foolish, of screwing up, of being the object of ridicule. The only cure for this fear is to realize that you’re going to look and sound foolish no matter what you do, so you might as well get on with it. At least you’re trying.
- What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?
I’m learning French, Italian and German, at various levels. I used to know Spanish pretty well, but it’s since been squashed by my Italian, which insists on occupying much of the same shelf space in my brain as Spanish. I’d like to learn something totally different like Chinese or Arabic or Swahili, just to have a new perspective. I’ve loved how learning languages changes how you see the world. It’s fascinating. I practice them by meeting people and talking to them! That’s the only life hack I can think of. If I knew of any others I’d probably be a lot better at those languages.
- Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?
Well, “properly” is in the ear of the beholder, wouldn’t you say? I’m not even sure I speak English “properly.” Leonardo Da Vinci said that art is never finished, only abandoned. Language learning is like that. You’re never really ever 100% totally fluent, you just get less and less crappy at it.
- Bonus question (just because I love comics) What are your main influences in comics? Do you have any referents (regarding styles, themes or so)?
I’m actually not a big comics guy, at least not in the Marvel/DC way. Growing up, I always read the comics in the morning newspaper over breakfast, and I used to doodle on my notes in class, but that’s about the extent of my relationship with comics. Actually newspaper strips inform a lot about Itchy Feet, particularly the somewhat “softball” type of jokes I tell and the short form “pacing” of the strip, which often includes for example a blank panel in which two characters stare wordlessly at one another. That comes from classic newspaper comics like Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, Garfield, or Peanuts. Stylistically though, the Itchy Feet guy is sort of the bizarre love child of Homer Simpson and a Don Hertzfeldt stick figure.
Thanks a lot to Malachi for his interesting answers! You can follow him on his official site, Twitter, Facebook (even in Czech, Russian, Japanese and Spanish), and of course… his Patreon site! Break a leg on Friday! 😀
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