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‘Xin Nian Kuai Le'
10 year-old-child speaks eight languages
When people say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy New Year’ to Moses Ortiz, the child’s reply might surprise them.
That’s because the 10-year-old can communicate in several languages. When others his age are playing video games or skateboarding, Moses is reading, researching, writing to an elected official or studying a foreign language.
“When he was 3 or 4, we had him at soccer practice. He did well through practice but when the game started, he would sit in the middle of the field. He didn’t like it. Playing sports was not for him,” said his mother, Joandrew Zeleny Ortiz. “He always has an argument about everything. He always has questions.”
Since he was young, the fifth grader has been inquisitive, she said, and has expressed a desire to be a lawyer, a doctor — or the president of the United States.
“When he was a baby, he was in his car seat when we passed a hospital. As we drove by, he said, ‘H’ — for the sign indicating a hospital was nearby. He’d say words without us knowing he knew them,” Ortiz said. “He always liked books. He was a 1 year old and anxious to get his hands on books. I talked to his pediatrician and was told I should leave books and puzzles on the floor. I did. He started learning so fast, he wanted to jump ahead. By the time he was 5 years old, Moses had learned the names of all the presidents of the United States. Each time he learns something, he wants to jump into starting something else.”
The same thing happens with the languages, Ortiz said.
Speaking English and Spanish since he started speaking, Moses became interested in becoming a multilinguist after becoming infatuated with learning German, his third language.
“I wanted to learn a lot of languages because I want to be smarter,” Moses said. “When I go to other places, I can speak the language. But the best part is, my parents don’t even know what I’m saying.”
Five months later, Moses was ready to start another language. Since then, the acquisition of languages continued.
The youngster now knows eight languages — English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese, the latter two he started studying in July.
“He’s amazing. It’s very hard to find a 10-year-old child interested in knowing so many languages,” said Rachel Alcantar, a Brazilian and Porterville resident who is also his Portuguese instructor for six hours — two hours, three times a week. “It surprised me. He is very dedicated.”
Moses said the languages similar to Spanish are the simplest to learn. But he’s always ready to tackle any new language.
“He’s improving and has learned a lot,” said Yan Conner, his Chinese language instructor. “He can sing and play Bingo in Chinese. He’s learned his numbers and is learning time, the hours of the day, and the days of the week. If we see something, he says it in Chinese and we speak it as much as possible. He’s also learning how to type in Chinese and we plan on getting him a pen pal — my niece who lives across the ocean in China — soon. Once he starts writing, he will begin communicating with her.”
When it comes to French, Moses learned by doing what French children do — reciting and singing.
“When I’m here, we spend most of our time speaking in French,” said Bill Warner, his French instructor. “He has a very inquiring mind. We also take a lot of field trips. The best way to learn is learning on the spot, by doing. He also learns a lot by songs. He’s very advanced and is learning words college kids can’t comprehend. His pronunciation is spot on. He has an ear for language and he’s a good singer.”
Warner also said the child once communicated with an elderly French woman.
“A 102 year-old French lady says his French is perfect,” Warner said. “He’s studying college-level films. I want him to not just commit this information to memory, but to be able to use it. He’s now starting to think in the language.”
Studying two hours a week, Moses has also picked up on poetry and is writing poems in French.
“I want to learn more [languages] but my parents said not right now,” Moses said. “When I was 5 years old, I’d go to my dad and mom and tell them I wanted to be the first Mexican American president of the United States.”
“His father — Rogelio — was 13-years-old when he came to the United States. We had nothing,” Ortiz said. “He always said he wanted to give his kids, not money, but the ability to be somebody. If something happens to us and we aren’t here, we want him to be able to survive. If he knows these languages, he can make it any where.”
The family said they are not concerned about the language studies keeping him from his school work because he has managed to keep his good grades.
“He is the kind of child that has to be learning something or doing something all the time,” his mother said. “I’m very proud of him and as long as we can, we’ll keep supporting him.”
Moses went as far as writing President George W. Bush but his letter went unanswered. In 2010, he wrote his current President, and on November 9, 2010, President Barak Obama, wrote back.
“I wanted to write to [President] Obama to ask him how his job was. I told him I wanted to be president some day,” Moses said. “I was happy he wrote back. He even sent me a picture of his dog.”
In June of 2012, Moses and his father flew to Washington D.C. to see the Mayflower, the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
President Obama wrote Moses, thanking him for the kind words, saying Moses was inspiring to him and that America needed more young people just like him.
A letter to NASA was also answered.
“He would send these letters out without telling us,” mom said. “He’s always been like that. If he has questions, he just asks. But he’s always been like that. He always has an argument about everything and he always has questions.”
Moses does not like making mistakes, Warner said.
“I tell him its normal. He wants to do everything perfect but nothing in this life is perfect. We’re working on it little by little,” Warner said. “He’s a great role model. I feel inadequate thinking of myself at his age.”
When he is not studying or researching something, Moses is learning to play the trumpet. And when he does have free times when he wants to simply be ‘a kid,’ she said, and he will rough house with his younger brother, Jacob. He also loves playing and building things with his Lego building blocks.
“It’s hard for him to tear something down after he builds it,” she said. “He built the Titanic after studying about it and he had a hard time taking it down. He wanted to keep it. Everything he builds is so intricate — so many details. I finally told him, ‘You have to stop.’ But stopping is hard. He always wants to be No. 1 at everything. I have to remind him he’s only 10.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.