American teen learns Bahasa Melayu in 2 weeks flat

16-year-old TJ Huizar has a love for linguistics and making documentaries about languages. (TJ Huizar pic)

PETALING JAYA: Trent Josiah Huizar is not your ordinary teenager. Unlike many who spent their time in quarantine perfecting their TikTok dance skills or improving their gaming scores, this 16-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona aced learning Bahasa Melayu in just two weeks.

And if that isn’t impressive enough, this young man, known to his friends as TJ, now speaks 14 languages.

These days, TJ uses all his free time working on his YouTube channel, The Planet Project which features unique stories about humanity and the multitude of languages spoken by people around the world.

“I speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, German, Mandarin, Bahasa Melayu, Persian, Bulgarian and Haitian Creole,” TJ says, rattling the impressive list of languages to FMT recently.

According to TJ, when his school closed earlier that usual this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he decided to use his free time to learn yet another language and chose Bahasa Melayu.

“I studied the language within two weeks to make my video. I wanted to challenge myself to see how much of a language I could learn within 14 days.”

TJ spent eight hours a day learning how to speak Bahasa Melayu. (TJ Huizar pic)

So he hunkered down for eight hours every single day, learning up to 150 words daily. Before he knew it, he had picked up about 1,000 words in total after two weeks.

TJ says he was relieved to discover that Bahasa Melayu wasn’t very difficult to learn, and that he was even able to hold conversations with relative ease eventually.

“I’m still trying to study more. I just wanted to see if I could hold a conversation after 14 days, and I could. I focused on words that are commonly used which really helps when you’re talking to others.

“I’ve studied so many languages to the point that I realise that there are some words which are more powerful than others.”

Cover of the book TJ used to help him learn Bahasa Melayu. (TJ Huizar pic)

His favourite Bahasa Melayu word? “Bersungguh-sungguh,” he says, flashing a grin.

Learning Bahasa Melayu wasn’t just a matter of memorising words, TJ says. He also spent considerable amounts of time devouring Malaysian culture and now hopes to stay a whole month in Malaysia, travelling from state to state, putting his knowledge of the language to good use.

TJ admits that Bahasa Melayu was one of the easier languages to pick up because it doesn’t have verb endings or conjugations often present in European languages.

However, he did remark that the vocabulary, although very different from English, had similarities with Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesia.

“Once you take the step to learn the vocabulary, I believe it gives you the advantage to pick up other languages like Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesia.”

Of all the 14 languages he has learned, TJ says Russian was the hardest to master as the pronunciation and grammar are rather difficult.

He says once he was comfortable in his command of Bahasa Melayu, he wasted no time finding people to converse with.

“I usually have friends who speak every language I study. If I don’t have that person in my school or town, I practise my conversations with people online.

“I’ve met a lot of people on Instagram who are more than happy to communicate with me in Bahasa Melayu. There’s even an online site where you can hire tutors to speak to you.”

TJ adds that his fondness of linguistics has helped him make many friends as language ceased to be a barrier.

If he knows that he will be travelling to a specific country, he gets a kick out of learning the language spoken there.

TJ translating for his choir during their trip to China. (TJ Huizar pic)

“Before I travelled to Armenia, I learned how to speak Russian. I always believe that if you are able to learn the language of the place you’re visiting, then you’ll have a better experience and will be able to understand the culture more.”

This filmmaker has visited China, Armenia, Portugal, Slovakia, Europe and Australia, bringing the total number of countries visited to an impressive 25.

While in Australia, TJ sampled some Malay cuisine and says that his favourite dish is nasi lemak.

TJ interviewing a local in Azerbaijan for his documentary. (TJ Huizar pic)

“I’m hoping to be able to travel somewhere beautiful at the end of 2020 to film another documentary,” TJ says.

In the meantime, you can check out TJ’s YouTube channel, The Planet Project here.