Seven languages down: Polyglot Henry Hinchey ’20 discusses passion for linguistics

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Henry Hinchey ’20 is currently competent in seven languages (Photo courtesy of Henry Hinchey ’20).

Danielle Bellefeuille

Currently competent in seven languages, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and Mandarin, Henry Hinchey ’20 is in the process of adding 4 more to his repertoire: Russian, Polish, Turkish and Catalan.

Hinchey said he incorporates learning languages into his daily life by listening to foreign music and writing his notes for his classes in different languages.

“I want to incorporate language ideally 100 percent of the time. No English music, I listen to a large majority foreign music, and I look up lyrics of the song,” Hinchey said. “I take my notes in different languages, reading my notes and studying at the same time.”

According to Hinchey, he approaches learning languages from both classroom and self-practicing perspectives. 

“You can’t learn a language by sitting in class 50 minutes a day, three times a week,” Hinchey said. “You need parts of your life to be in that language.”

Hinchey’s passion for learning new languages stems from a realization he had in high school about how much he took to learning Spanish. 

“I had a really good Spanish teacher in high school. I liked it and was good at it. The summer between ninth and tenth grade, I didn’t want to relearn everything, so I [started] to practice over the summer,” he said. “When I came back, I was much better than the level of Spanish I was currently taking. I [then] realized this is something I really enjoy.”

Hinchey is now a Spanish and French double major and a Chinese minor. 

He said that anyone can find a way to get better at a language that works for them. 

“Find resources you like. Just use [the language]. While you use it, you’re going to improve,” Hinchey suggested for those looking to improve. 

According to Hinchey, speaking with native speakers of the language is what he finds most helpful. However, Hinchey admitted that his proficiency isn’t perfect, and native speakers notice.

“Everyday I make mistakes, every single day I make more mistakes than correct things,” he said. “I usually recover [from failure] by letting the native speaker I’m speaking to stop laughing [at me].”

Hinchey said he is interested in studying Swahili, Hindi, Urdu and Farsi in the future. In terms of his plans after graduation, Hinchey wants to get a Ph.D. in linguistics and one day become a professor of linguistics.