An Okotoks student is headed to Brazil this summer to compete in the International Linguistics Olympiad.

Jonah Janzen, a grade 12 student at Holy Trinity Academy, will be competing alongside teams from 50 countries worldwide in Brazil this July.

Languages are one of Janzen's passions. He speaks English, French, and intermediate German, and he's working on Mandarin and Swahili.

They aren't his only passion though, as Janzen originally had his eye on the Mathematical Olympiad but was put off by the highly competitive nature of the high-profile event.

He then learned about the Linguistics Olympiad.

"I was like 'Wait, hold on, why wasn't I going at this from the beginning because I love languages possibly more than math and it's not nearly as competitive, so why don't I just do this?' So, I started practicing with some of their problems online and talked with a couple of mentors who could help me."

Since Canada is bilingual, they have Anglophone and Francophone teams. Janzen ended up applying to the latter because the Anglophone team didn't have any writing locations near him, and he was able to apply for the Francophone team online.

He made it through both rounds of the qualification process and eventually landed a spot on the team. Janzen is a member of the team who isn't from Montreal. He's been connecting with them online and they practice regularly.

Janzen explains the kind of problems they'll be solving in the competition.

"You'll have a whole bunch of text in one language and then a whole bunch in the language that you know. From that, you have to be like 'Okay, this word appears in these sentences in this language and these sentences in my language, so this must equal that,' and you're just figuring out correspondences between words and grammatical structures. There are also some subtypes like number system problems and phonetics."'

The team dynamic is a unique element when it comes to the Linguistics Olympiad and one which Janzen really enjoys.

"It's different from these other international science Olympiads in that Linguistics is the only one with a team element, which I really like because nobody goes off and does incredible things on their own. You have to be able to work in a team and collaborate on these kinds of things, especially if you're going into a formal study of linguistics for a PhD or something. I think it's a really good experience, helps you bond with your team."

On top of that, Janzen is happy to be competing in a field that's entrenched in our everyday lives and yet overlooked by many.

"It's not really a field that people know exists and is relevant. We've got math and physics, those are bigger sciences, but linguistics are actually underpinning a lot of what we do every day. A.I., for example, is largely reliant on linguistics because you need to be able to study how words fit together, you build broader contexts of meaning and generate valid sentences yourself... It's also pretty important for history, anthropology, and a whole bunch of other fields, it shapes how we think, the way we speak. If we understand languages from past civilizations then we can understand them a lot better, learn lessons from them, and have a broader understanding of other cultures and humanity."