Illustration by Katie Ferreol.

Majority of Students No Longer Fluent in Any Language Whatsoever

“In high school, I was a genuine polyglot. Now I can barely form a coherent sentence before 10 a.m.”

Mar 28, 2021

Students across NYU Abu Dhabi are at a loss for words — literally. While the Admissions Office proudly boasts that over 40 percent of matriculated students speak three or more languages, recent evidence suggests that arrival on campus causes lingual proficiency to shrink faster than the patience between admin and the student body. Many of those once fluent in any number of tongues back home are now unable to fully articulate their thoughts in any language whatsoever.
“I don’t know what happened,” lamented Spiche Less, Class of 2022. “In high school, I was a genuine polyglot. Now I can barely form a coherent sentence before 10 a.m. and there’s enough words just on the tip of my tongue to fill one of Andy Hamilton’s speeches. Incidentally, I’m never going to remember any of either.”
Much like the newest campus cat, the origin of the problem remains unconfirmed. While some theorize that attempts to pick up languages from their friends have caused students to neglect their native tongues, others believe the intensely English-centered environment might be to blame.
“My brain is just a swirling cloud of ideas that every once-in-a-while materializes into words,” explained Gugletranz Lait, Class of 2024. “If I were to switch my brain out of English mode for too long, I might not be able to get back. Despite what last week’s birthday party might indicate, I can’t afford to risk such severe consequences.”
Worse yet, the Anglophone environment potentially robbing students of their other skills doesn’t even appear to be improving their English.
“I spend all of every damn day reading, writing and speaking this godforsaken franken-language but still can’t fully express myself in class,” ranted Evrywunsez Ananasbutyu, Class of 2023. “I used to think in Russian, then I started thinking in English — now I can barely think in any words at all.”
Despite the focus of NYUAD’s liberal arts education on written and verbal articulation, it seems many students have encountered new, nebulous constraints on personal expression. Not even native English speakers are safe.
“Thank goodness I’m exempt from the TOEFL,” exclaimed monolingual U.S. American student Ifwesaytombastoom Weshudsaybombasboom, Class of 2021, “’cuz I seriously don’t know if I’d pass. At this point half my papers are written by turning on auto-complete and pressing tab until I hit the word count.”
The mysterious phenomenon also appears to prevent those learning a new language from attaining the proficiency they desire.
“It’s been three years and I still don’t know where to put ‘laysa’ in my sentences,” lamented Justryna Notfayl, Class of 2022, who studies Arabic. “How am I supposed to master the analytic morphosyntax of varying dialects?”
Reaching out to their teaching assistant Gitpaydtureed Garbaj, Notfayl hoped for some helpful guidance.
“Are you kidding me? I don’t even remember half of these grammar rules,” exclaimed Garbaj. “Honestly, just use Duolingo. Say what you want about that passive aggressive owl, but at least it doesn’t have to deal with the debilitating cultural anxieties of losing your own identity to mental colonization by the western academy.”
In the reverse case, many students likewise find it difficult to bring the ideas they’ve intentionally embraced from other languages into other lexical contexts.
“When I go home, I want to talk to my family about feminism and consent, but none of the words I use here translate back home,” said Ejukate Urson, Class of 2022. “I have five different languages on my CV, but I still can’t seem to explain to people that women and the bodies they inhabit deserve respect.”
Indeed, while students can largely still interpret the vernaculars they hold dear, it is in the act of expressing their most critical thoughts and identifying experiences that mere proficiency risks insufficiency.
“I still understand my grandparents but I don’t know how to fully communicate how much their stories mean to me,” said Cylenced Tuevinyurselv, Class of 2021. “My voice is no longer mine. It’s not my family’s. It’s not my professors’. It’s not hiding in the Académie Française nor in the lyrics of folklore. It’s trapped in a mouth without a tongue to sing it. What good is a voice without the words to make itself truly heard?”
Ian Hoyt is a Satire Columnist. Email him at
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