Student fluent in six languages from years in Army

How do you say hello in Farsi, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Tajik and Dari?

Ask diversified studies major Mark Shemwell. He speaks all of these languages fluently.

Shemwell, who has attended OCCC for about a year, said he learned these languages during his 17 years in the military, where he served in the intelligence field.

“I joined the Army when I was 17 years old,” he said. “The army sent me to school to learn Farsi and I found that I had a proclivity for languages.”

Shemwell said, of all the languages he knows, Farsi is his favorite to speak.

“To me, it’s by far the most expressive and poetic,” he said. “Arabic is a little gruff, Chinese is a little toney, Persian has a real soothing sound and, you know, you can’t beat Iranian women — they’re beautiful.”

Despite his love for Farsi’s style, he said, it wasn’t his favorite to learn.

“Intellectually, I would say Arabic (was my favorite to learn),” he said. “It’s very, very grammar intensive. It’s a group-based language, which means they start out with three or four letters and then they have 10 to 15 different ways that they manipulate [the letters].”

Shemwell, who is left-handed, uses his ability to write in different languages to his advantage — by writing his class notes in Farsi.

“For me, the Arabic and Persian languages [are] much easier to write from right to left, so I don’t get ink or lead on my hand,” he said.

Farsi is written from right to left as opposed to English’s left to right style of writing.

“It makes it more convenient,” Shemwell said.

With the exception of Tajik, Shemwell can read and write all six languages.

“I can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet,” he said.

During his time in the Army, Shemwell has traveled to many different countries.

These countries include Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Turkey and France. When Shemwell isn’t busy attending his classes at OCCC, he spends time with his 8-year-old daughter, Elise.

“He teaches me English, [Farsi] and all of that,” Elise said. “The language I want to learn the most is Spanish.”

Other than passing on his knowledge of languages to her, Elise said, her dad also makes time for other hobbies.

“I like to play drums with him,” she said.

“We like to go out for dinner, we watch television together and play games.”

Shemwell said though he doesn’t currently work, he is a full-time student and plans to apply to OCCC’s nursing program.

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