Calvin: International PR Executive, Leading with French, Spanish & Arabic
Professionals across industries and skill levels are sharing how they Lead with Languages:
“Speaking a foreign language is more than switching out one set of words for another—it’s about developing a better understanding of what someone else is saying.”
Meet Calvin—Principal & Co-Founder of RC Communications, a public relations firm
Languages: French, Spanish & Arabic
Grew Up In: Siler City, North Carolina
College: Duke University
Majors: French, Political Science
- Fulbright Scholar to Morocco (Research project in political science & Arabic language program)
- Duke in Paris (French language & culture immersion)
- Cooperating Programs in the Americas (COPA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Spanish language & political science research project)
How do you use your language skills in your work/career?
I’ve been really fortunate to have had the opportunity to use my passion and skills for foreign languages in almost every job I’ve had—from being an interpreter for migrant workers to working with several embassies and foreign governments.
I’m currently the Principal & Co-Founder of RC Communications, a Washington, DC based public relations firm I founded that works with U.S. and foreign clients to overcome communications challenges and raise awareness of issues they care about. We hold strategy meetings, conduct media coaching workshops, and produce press releases, op-eds, policy papers, and more in multiple languages.
I’m also a regular TV and radio commentator on international affairs and the language I use depends on the country(ies) where the program is broadcast.
What is the biggest misconception Americans have about learning languages?
Too often speaking a foreign language is seen as a cool or interesting skill but not a truly essential one because “everybody speaks English or at least they should.”
Speaking a foreign language is more than switching out one set of words for another—it’s about developing a better understanding of what someone else is saying. This is essential in my career because understanding the complexities of international relations requires grasping cultural contexts, historical backgrounds, and nuances that might not fully translate in English.
I learned this early and owe so much to amazing foreign language teachers, starting in high school and continuing in college, who inspired me to see that learning foreign languages wasn’t just to pass a class but would give me valuable skills to enrich my career.
Do you have an interesting, moving, or humorous anecdote featuring your language skills to share?
A few years ago, I was coming out of the metro in Washington, DC, and saw a confused older man with a map. I was sure of two things: He was a tourist and definitely Moroccan.
When I passed him, he struggled in English to ask me for directions to the National Mall so he could see the monuments. Without any explanation, I gave him directions and pointed the way in Darija (Morocco’s dialect of Arabic with French, Spanish, and Berber influences.) He thanked me, then did a double-take and asked, “Are you Moroccan?”
I answered with a straight face, “No, I’m American, but we all learn Darija in school.”
He stared at me completely bewildered, then I said, “I’m kidding. I lived and studied in Morocco!” We both laughed then parted ways, but I could tell he wasn’t completely sure if I was joking. He’s probably back in Morocco right now sharing from his first-hand encounter that Americans do indeed speak Darija because we learn it in school.
Have you ever surprised someone by using your language skills? Tell us about it @LeadWLanguages on social media.