Kofi Bazzel-Smith On Becoming Multilingual

In an interview with Artist Kofi Bazzell-Smith, he shared his experiences on how he learned multiple languages. Bazzell-Smith started his multilingual journey at a very young age, having a father who spoke Spanish. “After high school, I had a full-ride to the UofI I. I pretty much, hated school and dropped out after 1-year to purse boxing. I then decided to enroll in Parkland College, where I was taking random classes. Then I ended up taking a Japanese class for fun and I realized that I like it and was pretty good at it. For the first time, I liked going to school. So, I enrolled is a 2-yr Japanese program at Parkland College. At the time, I was taking classes periodically and working different jobs that I really did like. So at 27, I decided to save $5000 and flew to Japan, there I took a class on Manga art. When I came back to America, I was more focused and motivated. I came back and re-enrolled in Parkland College where I completed my Associated degree. I then transferred to EIU where I took Chinese since they didn’t have a Japanese program. There I excelled in Chinese. I got 100% on every test. As a student at EIU I returned to Japan and won several prestigious scholarships, including the U.S.-Japan Bridging Scholarship, the Gilman Scholarship, and the Freeman Foundation Study in Asia Award. This time in Japan, while taking advanced Japanese courses at Kansai Gaidai University and training at two professional boxing gyms, I was able to study one-on-one under an award-winning professional mangaka. I also audited a course at Kyoto Seika University, the only school in the world offering graduate degrees in Manga. In addition, I was invited by the Director of Japanese Professional Boxing, Shosei Nitta, to compete in an exhibition in Kawasaki city, where I defeated a professional fighter. I also spent time training with former World Champion Nobuhiro Ishida. I was thankful to find many opportunities while in Japan without the crippling pressure of the racism we have in America." After traveling to an Asian country, I realize the need to connect our Asian and African-American communities. I believe that we can learn a lot from each other, and we are more alike than we think. Back in the states, I drew and published a children's manga series in English and Japanese. My book "Azuki" features a Black girl who is a rock, paper, scissors champion. I created this series with the intention of bringing children from both cultures together. Now, there are little Black kids who can see their own likeness in a Japanese comic. And little Japanese kids overseas with a story in their language starring a Black main character.

As the Founder and President of the Japanese Culture Club at my university, and use my status to teach basic Japanese language and manga workshops on campus. Most recently I gave a lecture on manga for the University of Illinois Asian Studies Department.


My mission is to bridge the gap between Black and Asian cultures. I've realized that our International relationships always involve a White mediator and I think it's time we develop our own relationships. Some people that I met were not aware of the racial discrimination we face in the U.S. As African-Americans, we need to develop our own relationships with other cultures.” Kofi Bazzell-Smith recommends two tips when learning different languages: 1) Avoid using English or your native language as much as possible. Speak your desired language often even when asking questions on how to say certain things. That trains your brain to communicate effectively in daily conversation. 2) Emersion into the language daily. Even at home, simply taping the Chinese word for light on your light switch will help you learn a new language. Kofi Bazzell-Smith is also a well-known artist with a specialization in cartoon art. You can find his art on display in downtown Urbana, IL.

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