At 30-years old, Jonty Yamisha had nothing to complain about. He was enjoying a lucrative career as a management consultant and had an enviable homelife, happily married with children.On and off paper, things were pretty good. He was financially and personally very successful.
Except he didn’t feel successful. Although he wasn’t unhappy, something tugged at him. Something was “off.” Was he crazy? What could he possibly be missing?
It took some serious soul-searching before Jonty identified the obstacle between him and what he considered to cap off true fulfillment.
Jonty wanted to learn a language.
Reconnecting to his Cultural Heritage through Language
Jonty wanted to learn a language, but not just any language.
He wanted to learn Circassian – an ancient language that hailed from the North Caucasus of the Russian Federation. It was the language his parents used when speaking to one another during his youth. A language that he had listened to, day-in and day-out, but was never taught nor understood.
At that time, Jonty’s parents had recently fled from the Golan Heights of Syria where many ethnic Circassians were relocated following the Russo-Circassian War. Consequently, they were insistent that Jonty learn English and assimilate into the culture of his birthplace – the United States. They saw his academic achievement and economic future tied to his mastery of English, certainly not Circassian.So, while Jonty’s parents continued to converse to one another in their native tongue, Jonty went about going to school, speaking, writing, and reading in English.
However, being out of touch with his family’s language gnawed at Jonty throughout his life, until finally it reared its head around his 30th birthday.
Many native-speaking Circassians, including Jonty’s parents, never learned to read or write Circassian, nor did they teach the language to their children. Instead, they opted for more frequently used languages such as Russian or English, spurring Circassian towards extinction.
Language Death – Why Should We Care?
We hear a lot about languages dying but it’s difficult to appreciate what this means.
There are nearly 7,000 languages currently in existence spoken in various communities throughout the world. Some of these languages are thriving and are expected to continue to be shared from older generations to younger generations for years to come. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the world’s languages.
A language dies every 14 days. As people favor languages that are more closely tied to world economics, such as Spanish, Mandarin, and English, regional-specific languages die out. In fact, by the year 2100, nearly half of the world’s languages are expected to disappear. Sadly, we’ve lost thousands of languages already. Linguists estimate that over 20,000 languages were in existence before 8,000 B.C.
When there are no more speakers to speak a language, the language is dead.
Along with grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, what else dies when a language goes silent? The very heart and soul of a people.
Long Road to Language Attainment
As soon as Jonty embarked on his journey to learn Circassian, he hit obstacles. For one, there was no documentation in English on how to learn Circassian. Jonty couldn’t simply pop into the nearest bookstore to purchase a copy on “How to Speak Circassian” as no such book existed.
Eventually, Jonty discovered language learning resources – but they were in Russian and Turkish. Although Jonty can understand these languages to various degrees now after developing his language learning methodology that he calls, “Guided Immersion;” at the time, these languages were as good as Greek; they were as good as Russian or Turkish for that matter!
What makes Circassian so challenging? For one thing, the language is organized into a dozen dialects, three of which are extinct. Circassian has 56 unique sounds, many are nearly impossible to pronounce for the non-native Circassian speaker. The sounds are written using the Cyrillic alphabet of 33 letters, including many multi-character letters. And finally, the sentence structure and grammar wereabsolute head-scratchers.
Nonetheless, Jonty put everything into it. Something interesting happened.
Through learning Circassian, essentially by himself, he discovered the process of language any language. He came up with a methodology, not unlike how toddlers learn language, and adapted it to language learning for adults. In this way, Jonty came upon a recipe to break down language into its component parts and use shortcuts to understand and speak a language with greater efficiency than any language learning program available.
From Fortune 500 Executive to Language Activist
Circassian was a dying language. It’s important to understand what this means. Certainly, the absolute number of speakers matters. As newly immigrated Circassian’s settle in the United States, their native language is often not taught to their children, so there is no language transmission.
It’s said that the Circassian language will be extinct within the US within the next 50 years if immediate steps to preserve the Circassian language, through language education, documentation, and literacy resources are not made available. As well, community attitudes toward Circassian culture and language must experience a shift, where those of Circassian heritage, as well as researches and language lovers, join forces to preserve this ancient vernacular.
Over the past ten years, Jonty has done everything in his power to preserve the Circassian language. Jonty began his efforts by launching the Nassip Foundation, the only institution of its kind in North America dedicated to preserving and promoting the Circassian language, history, and culture. From instructing thousands of people to speak Circassian to writing and contributing the largest collection of Circassian language-learning materials, as well as producing countless videos, tutorials, and guides, Jonty is spearheading the Circassian language revitalization movement.
Through developing relationships with Circassian communities across the world, including Germany, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, and Russia, Jonty is known as the pioneer in the United States for injecting new life into this ancient language.
Language Activism Unlocks a New Language-Learning Methodology
Pick up a book on how to speak a new language or download a language learning app and you’ll discover a different approach. Through Jonty’s research of Circassian, he considered every language learning method out there. After training himself to speak Circassian – so well, in fact that even native speakers presume Circassian is his first language – he developed a methodology that he calls “Guided Immersion.”
Jonty has since developed and distributed his language learning method online for Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Russian. Lessons focus on common phrases and high-frequency words that are set inside the context of native speakers conversing over everyday activities. In this way, the learner hears how the language is spoken – day-to-day, picking up on the natural speech. In addition, Jonty’s methods involve a unique pattern of studying previously learned material so that it is engrained in the long-term memory, rather than short-term memory. Language learners understand the language culturally, appreciating its unique perspective, all by heart.
Today, Jonty operates his company, OptiLingo as well as acts as the executive to his non-profit, the Nassip Foundation. A portion of OptiLingo proceeds are donated to help fund the Nassip Foundations that the Circassian language can continue to find support among ethnic Circassians, linguists, and researches. As language is essential to Jonty’s ethnic heritage, through stabilizing Circassian, Jonty may preserve the looking glass into his ancestors’ worldview. This is certainly something he wishes to share with his children and his children’s children for generations to come.
Jonty Yamisha is the creator and founder of OptiLingo and the Guided Immersion method, a language-learning strategy that Jonty himself developed while studying his family’s ancient and dying language – Circassia. Guided Immersion is a revolutionary method that focuses on specific words and phrases used within the context of everyday activities as they are spoken by native speakers. Unlike other language-learning programs that are rely on rote memorization, OptiLingo emphasizes word context and structure, fostering comprehension and allowing students to understand what is being said and be understood in their target language within the very first lesson.