On January 26th, 2015 in Los Angeles, California & Tirana, Albania
Elson Farka was born on March 18th, 1994. He grew up in Laç, Albania but now lives in the capital, Tirana. He is the youngest of three children. He is enrolled in a general nursing program at a university in Tirana, and offers Albanian lessons via the internet during his free time. His project, called Learn Albanian Online, has helped many people around the world practice the Albanian language and learn about the country’s customs and traditions. His YouTube channel has helped people learn Albanian and English through his innovative lessons. You can contact Elson through any of the following ways:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/LearnOnlineTheAlbanianLanguage
Personal Facebook Account: https://www.facebook.com/elson.farka
Vanessa Villarreal (b. 1989) became interested in Albanian Studies while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Italian Studies, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in the same subject at California State University, Long Beach. Her main scholarly interests include: nineteenth and twentieth century Italian literature and culture, women’s studies, the Arbëreshë of Italy, and Albanian culture and history. She is currently a Teaching Associate at California State University, Long Beach, where she teaches Fundamentals of Italian for Spanish Speakers. She is also the secretary of Club Italia, a club that promotes Italian language and culture at her university.
In this oral history, Elson discusses what it is like to live in Albania and teach others Albanian online.
Interview recorded using Google Hangouts.
Transcribed by Vanessa Villarreal. Audited for accuracy and edited for clarity by Vanessa Villarreal. Transcript reviewed and approved by Elson Farka. Transcript 10 pages.
BEGINNING OF INTERVIEW
ELSON FARKA: Good morning to you. My name is Elson. I am from Albania. Thank you for interviewing me.
VILLARREAL: Sure. Let’s get started with the questions.
ELSON FARKA: Okay.
VILLARREAL: What is your full name, how old are you and where were you born exactly?
ELSON FARKA: Okay, so my full name is Elson Farka. Elson Farka. I am twenty years old and I was born in Laç, which is a city in Albania.
VILLARREAL: Have you lived there [Laç, Albania] your whole life?
ELSON FARKA: Yes, I had lived there for eighteen years and then I came back to Tirana [Albania]. Now I live in Tirana, for two years now. So, eighteen years in Laç [Albania] and two years in Tirana [Albania].
VILLARREAL: Do you go back often, to Laç [Albania], to visit family?
ELSON FARKA: My family is here in Tirana [Albania] but my family, my grandparents, they live there [Laç, Albania] and I sometimes go and visit them.
VILLARREAL: Nice. Can you describe Laç [Albania] for me?
ELSON FARKA: Yes, of course. So, Laç [Albania] is a small city in the west of Albania. It has mountains but it also has the field and the beach. It has a castle which is on the top of the mountain. It has the church which is the most saintest church in the whole of Albania, the most visited church. This church is very, very special because it has cured—it has helped many people around Albania and I think each one in Albania knows about the church. It’s a great place [Laç, Albania]. It’s a green place, which I love green places with breeze. It is a nice city to live but not really to do work because it is very hard to find job there.
VILLARREAL: Very interesting. Do you have any siblings?
ELSON FARKA: Yes, I have a sister and a brother, older than me. I am the youngest in the family but I am the tallest. [Laughs]
VILLARREAL: How is your relationship with your siblings?
ELSON FARKA: With my sister, it is better, much better. We share everything. With my brother, it is okay. We often help each other a lot. I give him a lot of help and he also gives me a lot of help. But, especially with my sister, we are more connected.
VILLARREAL: That is nice. Can you please describe your childhood for me?
ELSON FARKA: My childhood, uhm, okay. I was not raised in a childhood like the one used today. Not with the technology at all. Not with computers or not with electronic games. What we had that time was only to play the hopscotch, it is called. It is a kind of game?
ELSON FARKA: Okay, that one and we used to do a lot of uhm, let me think how to say it n English. To build things with the mud, from the soil. We mix the water and the soil and we build houses, small houses and cars. We used to plates or pots with that. It was very good one [childhood]. We used to have a lot of fun that time, but now a days the kids are only on the internet.
VILLARREAL: That is very true.
ELSON FARKA: Yeah.
VILLARREAL: Now I would like to ask you about the work you have been doing to teach others Albanian. For how long have you been doing this and how did you come up with the idea?
ELSON FARKA: Okay, so, I will start with the second question that you did. About three years ago, it was me who wanted to learn English so bad. I mean, I knew English like all English, but I had difficulty in talking with others. I had difficulty in speaking skills and communication skills. I found out about an online website, it was similar the one that I use [to teach Albanian]. They offer free English classes twenty four hours, all the time. I entered there and it was very good. About six months I was online in that website. I mean, every day practicing English and then, after six months, I thought to myself, why not do the same, but with the Albanian language. First, I started only a group on Facebook, called Learn Albanian Online. I could only post texts there [Facebook page], not videos. Only texts, like lessons. I wrote them by myself and daily expressions and words. Then, after a year, on I think August 2013, I start with the online classes. It is around two years that I started the Learn Albanian Online classes or lessons.
VILLARREAL: That’s great. Besides doing work for Learn Albanian Online, do you study or work somewhere else?
ELSON FARKA: I study. I am in the third year of the university. I study nursing. It is not something that I like, but this is what I study now. I work online in that website, Learn Albanian Online. I teach others Albanian and I keep myself busy with that, writing lessons, organizing videos and editing videos and etcetera. I also used to do the acting. I was about seven months, doing acting shows and theatre shows and TV shows here in my country. That’s all.
VILLARREAL: That’s very interesting. How many hours per week do you think you spend on planning lessons and answering people’s questions?
ELSON FARKA: Okay, I will start with the second question again, how many hours do I spend answering the people’s questions. I have a phone that is connected with every account that I have created, so everything a student posts everywhere, on Facebook, on Google, on YouTube, it comes a notification on my phone. Even in the middle of the night. Anytime. I get a notification on my phone and I check that notification, that message, and I answer to that within two minutes. There are about five hundred students which are part of the group [Learn Albanian Online] and they post questions all the time there. I am always available for them, answering the questions and explaining the questions, etcetera. The first question, how many hours do I spend writing? I have the online classes—I have them on Sundays, each Sunday, at 5pm Albanian time. It requires around ten hours of making one lesson because I have first to decide what I will discuss about, something different discussed in the other lessons—in the previous ones. I have to find out—I have to create all the sentences, all the phrases, all the words that I will put in that lesson. I have to organize all the slides around. There are around fifteen slides per each lesson. I have to organize them to make the lesson more attractive to the students, so they will understand something from the lesson. If the lesson is very not well organized, it is very difficult to concentrate. The last day, the Saturday before the class, I review the lesson once all over again. I see if there is any mistakes. If there is something to add, to remove, etcetera.
VILLARREAL: Can you describe what types of classes you offer and what they are like?
ELSON FARKA: Okay. I offer two kinds of services. The free classes which are as I said, on Sundays, is where I discuss different topics for them. For example, family vocabulary, all phrases related to the family, family members, etcetera. The weather, how to describe the weather. Another topic: how to count, what are the numbers in Albanian. Another topic: to talk about how to introduce yourself, which are the daily expressions, etcetera. On Sundays, I have a specific topic for them [my students]. Also, I have the private classes which they can take whenever they want. Even if we are different time zones all over the world, even if they tell me to have a class at 2 A.M. my time, I will be available for them. It is all up to them what topic to discuss. They can choose grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, practice reading skills, listening skills, speaking skills, whatever they would like to know. Usually, they let me know one day before so I can write the lesson and it will be ready for the next day.
VILLARREAL: That is great. What would you say is the greatest thing that you do for others by answering their questions and giving them free lessons?
ELSON FARKA: First of all, the greatest thing is that I am doing something that I really, really like. Since I was in elementary school, I always wanted to be a teacher and to have my own students, to have my own class and to have my own way of teaching. No one has ever said that to be a teacher you must be in a real class, so I use these online classes like it is a real class for me. This is a very important thing for me. It is a great thing and on the other hand, it is also great for others. They are gaining—they are having this service for free most of the time. I mean, whenever they have a question I am always available for them to answer. There are many people who need help in the Albanian language and I am available for them to help them with anything they need and anything they would like to know. I think it is a great thing. Isn’t it? [smiles]
VILLARREAL: It really is. What would you say is one difficulty you have?
ELSON FARKA: About teaching?
ELSON FARKA: Uhm, let me think. Okay, as I told you, I am in school and I study nursing. I have many subjects and many classes to study. I often find it difficult to organize a free class on Sunday because I am busy with school. There was about two or three times that I skipped a free class because I was extremely busy with the exams. But, also, yesterday I did the twenty fifth free online class for them and I was thinking to myself that I am running out of the topics. I have discussed many, many things on my list and I am running out of topics that I would like to discuss, but I will find something out. I will continue making all these classes for them. Also, a difficulty is the time zone. Me and all the students, they are from different time zones. If here is an evening, there is very early and they cannot join. Or is very, very late and they cannot join. But, the beautiful side is that each video is recorded and they can watch it later on YouTube even if they were not present in the class.
VILLARREAL: Why do most of your students want to learn Albanian?
ELSON FARKA: Why do students want to learn Albanian?
VILLARREAL: Yes. What do they usually say?
ELSON FARKA: There are many reasons, actually. The most common reason for them is that they have their boyfriend or girlfriend from Albania. Another reason is that they are married from someone who is Albanian. Another reason is that they want to visit Albania in the near future, so they want to know basic phrases or words they must know before visiting Albania. Another reason is that there are people who want to learn Albanian for fun, as a second language. The polyglots, the people who want to learn languages. Another reason is that someone who has visited Albania, they have enjoyed it a lot and they want to learn more about Albania and the language. Another reason is that there are, let me think.—there are a lot of reasons. For example, they want to do the charity jobs in Albania. There are a lot of charity organizations from other countries. Here in Albania, the charities or others want to come to study in Albania and they want to know Albanian. These are some of the reasons.
VILLARREAL: Do you know how many students you have had in total?
ELSON FARKA: In total, they are most active in my Facebook group and I can see there the number of active
students. There are about five hundred and sixty students.
VILLARREAL: Wow! Have you made friendships with any of them?
ELSON FARKA: Yes. One of the most beautiful parts about me starting teaching Albanian and all this time is that I have made very, very good friends. In Albania, most of the time, even with my Albanian friends I talk in English because I love English so much. Of my students, I made them also as friends and I talk in English with them. We have become like very, very good friends. We will exchange places. They will come here once and I will go there.
VILLARREAL: How does it feel to be admired by your students for all of your help and hard work?
ELSON FARKA: [laughs] Okay, this is a great question, actually. Even when I start the class or when I post a very short lesson or a very short phrase, I always get many thank you’s following that. They say, thank you very much, we really appreciate it. Even when I set the events, because I always set an event for the free classes. One day before I set the event, there are many people who will say they are going to this event. They thank me for organizing the classes and it makes me feel very wonderful because it is something that I really love to do. It makes me feel good knowing that there are others who appreciate what I do.
VILLARREAL: Does your family know you teach Albanian to others? If so, what do they think about it?
ELSON FARKA: Do my family know that I teach Albanian?
VILLARREAL: Yes, online.
ELSON FARKA: Yes, they know that I teach Albanian. Almost everyone knows here. Once when I told my grandparents that I teach Albanian online they say, you do the most wonderful job because you are there sitting home and you do not need to walk to go to work or to take a bus, or whatever. You are very comfortable at your house and it is great. My parents know and everyone knows that I teach Albanian. To everyone that I told that I teach Albanian they told me, that is a great idea, how can you do that and build the website, the accounts and how do you teach them? Do you speak English so good so that they can understand you? Do you know Albanian grammar so good?
VILLARREAL: Great. What are your future goals?
ELSON FARKA: I have a lot, actually. [laughs] Since I was a kid, I had many. Except teaching, I had many, many goals. Some of them became true, like teaching. I am teaching now and that is a dream for me come true. Another one was the acting. I always wanted acting and I did seven months of acting. I was on shows, on stage performing, etcetera. I made that dream come true also. Also, nursing. I like nursing, but not that much. Mostly, they were my parents who wanted me to study the nursing. Their dream came true. I was thinking again continuing teaching but also dealing with the acting again. I wanted to start the acting and the shows, and those things.
VILLARREAL: That is great. Have you met anybody [student] so far that has been completely fluent in Albanian?
ELSON FARKA: Those who are my students are fluent.
VILLARREAL: Really? They can have a fast conversation.
ELSON FARKA: Some days ago, I posted a video of my class on my Facebook and one of my students posted a comment saying, this is the very first Albanian video I watched related with the Albanian language. The classes she has entered, she is very fluent, especially in reading. She can translate sentences and she can also speak well. But, I can believe that class was the very first Albanian class I had, which was like two years ago. She became fluent in two years, which is a really good thing.
VILLARREAL: That is impressive. I have noticed that many Albanians speak more than one language. How many languages do you speak?
ELSON FARKA: I speak my native Albanian language, I speak the English language as you can see and I learned all Spanish through television. I understand everything [Spanish] and I can speak a little bit. I only want to practice with other people that speak Spanish. I learned Spanish by watching television, telenovelas and Mexican and Spanish movies. I learned also—I started Italian at school. Italian, I understand all Italian. I can speak it a little bit. Also, since I studied nursing, I also studied Latin language. All parts of the body they are in Latin language.
VILLARREAL: Which languages are always offered at schools in Albania?
ELSON FARKA: What languages Albanian schools offer?
ELSON FARKA: The foreign languages, they offer English. Almost each schools have the English language. As the second languages, there are some schools that have Italian, some schools that have French and some other have German. The most common one is English. Each school has English as a foreign language.
VILLARREAL: Do most of your friends speak more than one language as well?
ELSON FARKA: Not really. When I talk to them in English, they understand me what I say but they always reply me in Albanian because it is very hard for them to speak in English. Most of the Albanian young generation they speak English. Many of them speak English and also we watch a lot of Spanish television and they understand also Spanish. They understand English, and also Italian. There are a lot of young people that work in Italian call centers and they understand and talk Italian very well.
VILLARREAL: That’s great. For somebody that has never visited Albania, how would you describe it?
ELSON FARKA: Some years ago, when I started teaching Albanian, it was one sentence that I kept repeating to them [my students]. You can visit Albania whenever you want. It is a wonderful place to visit, a miracle, a very, very wonderful place. But, do not live here because it is difficult. No jobs, not such good life conditions. This was my opinion three years ago, but now I can tell them you can visit Albania. It still remains the same. Albania is a wonderful place to visit. It has the seashore, it has the wonderful waters, the wonderful mountains. Very high mountains, very fresh air. Also, you can come also to live because Albania has been improved very good lately. It is a wonderful place. You must come and enjoy yourself.
VILLARREAL: That is a really good answer. Can you describe your favorite local dish?
ELSON FARKA: Local dish?
ELSON FARKA: Albanian dish?
ELSON FARKA: Okay, can I describe my favorite food in Albania?
VILLARRELA: Of course.
ELSON FARKA: My favorite food—let me think. I really enjoy the pizza. I love pizza. I also love mushrooms. I love mushrooms a lot. What else? In Albania, a local dish in Albania, I don’t know if you have ever heard about byrek. Have you ever heard?
VILLARREAL: Yes, of course.
ELSON FARKA: Yes, so that one made with tomatoes and onions. It is very good one that one.
VILLARREAL: I really like it as well.What do young people in their twenties such as you usually do in their free time in Tirana [Albania]?
ELSON FARKA: In their free time? Okay, I will say how it really is, so I will not make up something. What most of the Albanian young people at around twenty, they hang out a lot during this time [evening]. If you go out walking in the streets, you will see many of them. They are walking, they are in the bars, in the cafeterias. Then, there is a very small amount who stay at home studying. But, most of them they are hanging out with others.
VILLARREAL: Do you think that the lifestyle in Tirana is very different from the lifestyle in Laç [Albania]?
ELSON FARKA: Hmm, let me think. It is a little bit different because Tirana is the capital of Albania and most of the people are very concentrated here, mostly the young generation. Back in my hometown in Laç, it is a small city as I told you. There are not many things to do there regarding to your age of twenty years old person. They do not really have something to do there. But, here in Tirana, they hang out a lot and go out with others in the cafeterias.
VILLARREAL: Do you have a favorite Albanian proverb or saying that you would like to teach others?
ELSON FARKA: I have prepared a ten slide lesson only with proverbs and there are a lot there. One of them is—I will say the literal translation in English and then I will tell what it is the meaning. So, it says, even if you become a sun, you cannot warm everyone. I do not know if you understand it. Even if you become a sun, you cannot warm everyone. It is like, you try to do good things but you cannot make everyone happy by you doing some good things. You cannot make everyone happy. You can make a lot of people happy, but not everyone.
VILLARREAL: That is very interesting. Can you say that for me in Albanian?
ELSON FARKA: Yes. Edhe diell të bëhesh, nuk i ngroh dot të gjithë. Even if you become a sun, you cannot warm everyone.
VILLARREAL: That is very nice. What is something you wish that you could change about your country?
ELSON FARKA: Okay, if an Albanian hears this, he will be like, what, really? I would like the English language to be an official language like Albanian. So, an official language here in Albania. That might seem crazy but I would like English to be an official language in Albania along with the Albanian language. I would like both of them to be official languages in Albania.
ELSON FARKA: Yes, or I would like the Albanian to be part of the European countries. Albania is not part yet, but I would like, of course.
VILLARREAL: For my last question—
ELSON FARKA: One more thing. Can I say something?
ELSON FARKA: About to change something about my country. A lot of my students, they ask me, it is it dangerous to come in Albania? A lot have heard and watched the movie Taken. It is about the Albanians. And I tell them, no, it is not dangerous. It is not a dangerous place. Only if you do something bad to a person, then you will get to see. Albania is not a bad place. It is not a dangerous place. It is a wonderful place. You must only come and see and suddenly you will figure it out.
VILLARREAL: I think that you just answered my last question. My last question was asking you to tell me something that you would like to share about your country that many people outside of Albania do not know.
ELSON FARKA: Okay, would I share something that Albanians do not know?
VILLARREAL: No, that people outside of Albania do not know.
ELSON FARKA: Oh, okay. Uhm, let me think about this one also. I do not know if you know, the mother Teresa was from Albania. She was Albanian. Let me think. Albanian language is totally different from any other language that you might hear in the whole world. It is a language totally like—it is a language in a universe—I do not know how to explain. You know the tree? It is a branch but it is totally away from other branches. It is different from all other languages and it is a little bit difficult to study but if you really like the language or the country and if you have the will to study, then it is very easy for you. What else? Okay, this one also. I think each of the Albanian cities has a castle on the top of the mountain. There are cities that have more than one castle. Like Tirana, Tirana has about two or three castles I think. Almost each city in Albania has a castle on the top of the mountain. There are some castles that are in the city, like the Durres castle that is in the city. Also, another interesting fact is that in the south of Albania—Albania has one official island, which is the island of Sazan. It is not habited. There are no people there. There are three islands in the south of Albania, which are wonderful. Just by pictures, you will enjoy it a lot. If you come, you will enjoy even more. Often, people compare it with Bora Bora or Maldives, the south of Albania.
VILLARREAL: That is a really great answer. Thank you so much for such a wonderful interview.
ELSON FARKA: You are welcome. You are always welcome.
VILLARREAL: Thank you. That is all.
ELSON FARKA: Okay, thank you. I enjoyed it very much. For anything else you would like to ask or you would like to know, you just let me know.
VILLARREAL: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW
Total time: 36 minutes
Here is an example of one of his lessons: