When Randy accepted my request, I knew this would be a great interview!
Welcome to the second edition of Language Learning Gets Personal. The interview series in which I always pose the same 11 questions to an experienced language learner.
We don’t discuss methods or techniques here. The questions are of a more personal nature. We want to find out what impact learning a foreign language(s) has had on the person’s life. What significant experiences, good or bad, are the result of learning a foreign language?
Today we have no one less than the Yearlyglot: Randy Hunt!
In many ways, Randy is the perfect fit for Language Learning Gets Personal.
On his blog, he doesn’t just talk about Language learning but also about the effects of learning new languages on his personal life.
To top it all off: Randy is never shy to give his opinion.
Those are exactly the kinds of things LGP is about!
The name Yearlyglot refers to the fact that Randy tries to get fluent in a new language every year. You can follow his yearly missions, and Randy’s adventures in language learning and travel, by visiting his blog at:
Be sure to stop by after reading the interview!
1. What languages do you speak?
English, Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, and Polish.
2. Why did you choose to learn those language(s)?
I learn the languages I can use in my life. Spanish and Russian, for example were easy choices because I spent a lot of time around people who spoke those languages. German became useful when I started traveling, because I only fly Lufthansa so I travel through Germany on every trip.
Polish has become quite useful for me recently, as I continue to make more and more friends in Poland, in addition to many friends in the large Polish community here in Chicago. Italian was the only language I learned by choice – in fact, it was chosen for me, by vote, when I first started my blog.
3. What sacrifices have you made to learn them?
I think the only thing I’ve sacrificed is my pride. Speaking a new language means spending a lot of time saying things wrong, making mistakes, and sounding like an idiot, and you MUST go through these experiences before you can ever speak well enough to stop sounding like an idiot. Alcohol can help. 🙂
4. What’s the biggest positive consequence that learning a foreign language(s) has had on your life?
That would have to be all the amazing people I’ve met around the world. Signing up for a Russian social network quickly put me in touch with more Russian-speaking friends than I could have imagined, many of whom I’ve traveled to meet.
The same happened with Italian, too. Speaking Spanish has gotten me into social circles here in the US to which many people have no access. All in all, this big scary world has gotten much smaller as a consequence of my ability to understand and communicate with more people in more places.
5. Would you say that you have a passion for learning languages?
Hmmm. I would say that I’m fascinated by languages, but my passion is people. I love meeting people, making friends, learning about other cultures and attitudes. Sure, languages do fascinate me – I’m curious about grammar, pronunciation, etc. – but I think that’s more of a result of the positive attitude I’ve developed toward languages as a side-effect of my passion for meeting people.
6. What’s the most beautiful language in the world and why?
When you’re sitting on a bus or a trolley behind three beautiful young women and they’re speaking to each other in some language you don’t know or understand, in slow, sultry voices, that is the most beautiful language in the world.
I’ve heard people say that German, or Russian, or Arabic are harsh, brutal languages. I’ve also heard people speak each of those languages in ways that made me want nothing more than to hear them spoken all day. I think when people romanticize a language as “the most beautiful” they are attaching some preconception to the language, its culture, its native land, and history.
People often say French, or Italian, or Brazilian Portuguese are “the most beautiful”, but I’ve heard all of them spoken in brutal ways. I’d rather hear a sexy voice slowly speaking in Klingon than a brutal voice speaking French.
7. What language would you absolutely not want to learn and why not?
I have no use for constructed languages – Esperanto, Ido, Klingon, Interlingua, etc. These languages have no native culture. They are the very definition of language used purely as a tool.
On its surface, that doesn’t sound so bad, but the problem for me is that a language used only as a tool will mostly be learned by people who only intend to use it as such. With Russian, or Italian, I might gain 1000 years of insight into the culture by learning a single word, whereas learning a word in Esperanto teaches me nothing more than the word.
And when a Spanish speaker chooses one word over another – especially in emotive expressions – there is a lot to be understood in that choice. This can never be true of a person’s use of constructed language.
8. What’s the most amazing intercultural experience you’ve had because of speaking another language?
Perhaps my favorite experience was on a recent trip to Poland, and didn’t really speak any respectable level of Polish, but I let go of my pride and cobbled together enough of Polish to thank my hosts and present them with a gift. And in return, they cobbled together enough English to thank me and wish me happy travels.
I think what made that experience my favorite was that neither of us spoke the other’s language, but we found a way to communicate and share a good experience. Letting go of pride makes a lot of things possible.
9. What’s the most embarrassing mistake in another language you’ve ever made?
I have made many errors in speech over the years, but none of them stands out as particularly embarrassing, because when I look at them from the other person’s perspective I realize I just sound like a person who doesn’t understand the language, which isn’t really a big deal.
However, the thing that DOES stand out to me as embarrassing was that when I learned Russian, most of my interaction was with girls, so I picked up a lot of “slang” that I didn’t realize had some gender connotations attached to it.
Eventually, upon meeting a few new friends, I was told that they assumed I was gay, because men don’t talk that way. Yikes!
10. Do you dream in a foreign language?
I have dreamed in foreign languages many times. In fact, I’ve had people tell me that I speak other languages while talking in my sleep. One, in fact, said I spoke in my sleep better and more fluently than when I was conscious! I wish I had a recording to hear that.
11. Do you have plans to learn more languages? I.e., what are your language goals for the coming years?
I have no plans to stop learning. However, exactly what I will learn isn’t necessarily planned at the moment. If I should happen to start spending time with a Farsi speaker, I will probably learn Farsi. Or, if I should happen to befriend a native of China, I’ll probably learn Mandarin.
Having a Lithuanian heritage, I would love to be able to speak Lithuanian – at least conversationally, if not fluently. I don’t know what will be next, but I know I will always welcome the challenge.
What a Great Read!
Some really entertaining anecdotes there. Thank you, Randy!
If you liked this interview, then make sure you visit Randy’s blog to get more of the same stuff at: www.yearlyglot.com
That concludes the second edition of Language Learning Gets Personal, and I have to say, LGP is really starting to turn out as I hoped it would. If you have any suggestions to tweak the questions, I invite you to share them with me. You can do so either in the comments or through the contact page. I’m always open to improve things even if they already function very well.