Most of my job opportunities have manifested because I could speak the language the employer needed. I got jobs for which I was under-qualified but I was the only applicant who could speak the language!
Welcome to the fifth installment of Language Learning Gets Personal.
Every edition so far has been good, but this one’s quite special because we have one of the most respected and famous polyglots in Susanna Zaraysky.
She has traveled to over 50 countries, speaks eight languages and has authored two books: Language is Music: Over 100 Fun and Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages (El Idioma es Música in Spanish) and Travel Happy, Budget Low, which is all about low-cost traveling.
She’s also the co-producer of the documentary Saved by Language, which features the amazing story of a Bosnian boy who saved his life in the Holocaust by speaking in Ladino, an endangered Judeo-Spanish language.
Susanna has been featured on CBS, CNN, MTV, the BBC, The Guardian, the Filipino Channel, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business News, Univison, Telefutura, and MSNBC, and has helped US diplomats and military personnel learn languages by using music.
You can check out Susanna’s appearances on television by visiting her website. Go the press section to watch the videos (it’s worth it, but quite a few are in Spanish):
With such credentials, I think you get the point: I’m thrilled to have Susanna in the Language Learning Gets Personal series!
So, without further ado, let’s get the interview rolling!
1. What languages do you speak?
English, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian, Ladino
2. Why did you choose to learn those language(s)?
Russian is my first language so there was no choice there!
English is my second language and I learned it upon moving to the US. My parents forced me to take a foreign language in middle school and I chose French. Living in California, I heard Spanish long before I formally started learning the language in high school.
Once, I was in a line for a tourist site and I heard some Italian tourists behind me regaling me with the singing melody of Italian and I decided that I, too, wanted to be able to sing while speaking!
For Portuguese, I truly don’t recall what the impetus was to learn the language.
While living in Bosnia, I learned the local language and became introduced to Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and fell in love with songs in Ladino.
3. What sacrifices have you made to learn them?
For Ladino, I only have one person within a one-hour driving radius of my house with whom I can speak in Ladino. So I really have to make an effort to meet with my sole conversation partner.
4. What’s the biggest positive consequence that learning a foreign language(s) has had on your life?
Jobs! Most of my job opportunities have manifested because I could speak the language the employer needed. I got jobs for which I was under-qualified but I was the only applicant who could speak the language!
5. Would you say that you have a passion for learning languages?
Most certainly! Without the passion, languages are just a set of dry grammar tables and vocabulary lists.
6. What’s the most beautiful language in the world and why?
I can’t answer that question! Brazilian Portuguese is stunning with its mellifluous sounds and I adore it!
7. What language would you absolutely not want to learn and why not?
Hmm, that I can’t say. I never thought I’d been in a situation where I’d learn Serbo-Croatian and I did. So I don’t want to say “never”.
8. What’s the most amazing intercultural experience you’ve had because of speaking another language?
I’ve just finished producing the documentary, Saved by Language, about a Bosnian Sephardic boy who saved his life in the Holocaust by speaking Ladino. If it hadn’t been for my knowledge of Spanish, I would not have been able to converse with the first Ladino speakers I had met in Bosnia, nor would I have had the curiosity to ask Ladino speakers about their stories.
If I hadn’t had the intellectual interest in Ladino, I would not have learned about Moris Albahari’s amazing story of survival via Ladino.
9. What’s the most embarrassing mistake in another language you’ve ever made?
Since both Russian and Bosnian are Slavic languages, I assume that the word has the same meaning in both languages. So once, I thought that “trudno” means “difficult” like in Russian. Actually, it means “pregnant”. So when I was saying that something was hard for me in Bosnian, my friend thought I was saying I was pregnant.
10. Do you dream in a foreign language?
Oddly, I’ve dreamed in Arabic on various occasions but I don’t speak the language. I studied it many years ago and I know a few words and sayings but I can’t hold a conversation. Nonetheless, my brain can create Arabic sounds in my dreams and I still understand what the dreams are about!
11. Do you have plans to learn more languages? I.e., what are your language goals for the coming years?
My goal is to improve both my Portuguese and Ladino. That is quite hard because they are both Romance languages and I confuse them sometimes!
Thank you, Susanna. It’s an honor to have you in this series!
So that concludes the 5th edition of Language Learning Gets Personal.
LGP will continue. If you sign up for the Smart Language Learner email updates, I’ll let you know when I publish the next one.
All the best!