Siblings' Rivalry Leads to Speaking Different Languages

Sibling rivalry runs deep with brother and sister Joseph and Ellen Hoffman.

This summer, the duo from Concord has taken their competitive streak overseas, where both enrolled in language immersion programs that fueled their loves of culture.

Ellen, a junior at UNC Charlotte was bound for Germany. The 26-year-old spent four weeks in an intensive German program at the Goethe-Institut. There, she dove into language studies 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

“The Goethe-Institut is extremely international. I had never been so surrounded in one place by so many nationalities,” Ellen said. “After five hours of German, I was then able to go speak Russian with the Russians and Polish with the Poles.”

For Ellen, her passion for the language first began when she was in fourth grade and met her German third cousins.

Because of her father’s job as a preacher, the family routinely traveled and moved across the United States, so Ellen said she wasn’t able to take German in school. So the then 11-year-old began teaching herself the language.

She said her recent trip to the country was “fulfilling a dream.”

Ellen claimed her trip to Germany sparked her brother’s interest in studying abroad in China, but that remains a sibling debate. Ellen is now back from her trip, while Joseph is in China.

Their mother, Dotsi Hoffman, said while Joseph and Ellen are very different, they share the qualities of being “strong-willed and confident children.”

Joseph, 19, is a rising sophomore at the Citadel and is studying with the Alliance For Global Education at Fudan University in Shanghai. As part of the two-month program, the cadet will gain experience in Chinese and learn about relations between the U.S. and China in a US-Sino relations course.

“In addition to the language experience, I’m also studying U.S. relations, so I want to learn about the history between our two nations,” Joseph said. “Surprisingly, most people are fairly ignorant, so I hope to bring back a better understanding.”

During a Skype interview, Joseph was greeted by his mother Dotsi and sister in Chinese.

“Ni hoa,” said the two women in unison.

Dotsi said the Web exchange has helped her keep in touch with her son while he is away from home.

In their respective countries, the siblings both took advantage of sightseeing. Joseph has explored destinations like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Ellen spent her weekends hopping on a train and backpacking to Stuttgart, Berlin and Neuschwanstein Castle, among other sites.

Aside from studies and traveling, Ellen also works part-time at Rosetta Stone as a language consultant and is a member of the German Club and Earth Club at UNCC. Prior to attending college, Ellen spent time touring the country as a vocalist in a punk rock band.

“I’ve definitely grown up from those days and it’s provided me the experience and a lot of skills you need to learn to interact with different types of people,” Ellen said.

At the Citadel, Joseph is a member of the jiu jitsu team and received the Gold Star award by earning a 3.86 GPA.

“(Their father) Fred and I are both extremely proud of them,” Dotsi said. “We feel very blessed that God has provided what they needed. We have always said to them if there is something that you want then you just have to figure out a way to reach that goal.”

In the future, Ellen hopes to one day pursue a career involving her linguistic experiences or explore renewable energy paths.

“I don’t know if I’ll end up in the country, but the ideas for sustainable society are so imperative and urgent,” she said. “I can definitely see myself collaborating with Germany.”

Joseph will graduate as second lieutenant in the Army and plans to go into military intelligence. Both said they hope their cultural experiences overseas will aid them in their careers.

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