Name: Alexandra Ivanova
Nationality or Ethnicity: Austrian / Bulgarian
Where do you live? currently in the Middle East (but it often changes)
Languages: Bulgarian, German, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Italian* and Swedish*
What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Born in Austria to Bulgarian parents, I grew up bilingually in the heart of Europe and started learning English early in school, as most Austrian children do. During high school, I learned French, Spanish and Latin in a language-focused class, where the curriculum featured subjects entirely taught in English and intensive lessons for new languages. At the same time, I wanted to learn Italian so I enrolled in extracurricular classes and language institutes. All these languages were rather similar and increasingly easy to master, which led me to start learning the Arabic alphabet before graduating from high school. After moving to France for two years of studies in Social Sciences in French, I had the opportunity to continue studying Modern Standard Arabic and add Levantine Arabic during a gap year of intensive language studies. Throughout my postgraduate studies and early work experiences, I continued heavily investing my time and resources in Arabic. This led me to learn different types of Levantine and Gulf dialects and eventually fully work in Arabic.
My story has been about living, studying and working in different European and Middle Eastern countries where I sought to closely connect to the culture through language.
Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Depending on the country I live in, I always miss the languages I speak more rarely which thus changes throughout time. I must admit that I rarely miss English. Spanish, Swedish and particularly Italian have been among the languages I do not speak as often, since I have not permanently lived in any country where those are official languages.
What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I imagine learning Persian as a rewarding experience, after the laborious acquisition of Arabic. I have also been curious about the Japanese language and culture, which is of similar nature to the curiosity I had for Arabic in the beginning. In the long run, I would be intrigued about learning a very different language, possibly a rare one which exists only in spoken but not in written form.
So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I would say it depends on who is speaking it, but mostly people with mixed accents from different languages (I may disagree with the majority about French in there). As a musician, I always prefer Italian due to its melodic intonation and many vowels. I have also come to appreciate language mixes as more attractive and multi-faceted ways of expression.
What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
My greatest pleasure is to cultivate my multiple identities and personalities through the languages I speak, to look at the world from different thought cultures and connect to people’s personalities in an intimate manner through their mother tongue. I truly enjoy building friendships and integrating deeply in different cultures and societies and through language.
Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
I would have some reservations about this statement. While globalization may challenge the survival of rare languages, there are also new and different “types” of English spoken around the world nowadays. Maybe those will one day evolve as different dialects?At the same time, new languages are constantly being created as language is, by its nature, a continuously evolving medium, integrating new words and creating new meanings when needed.
I believe in the immortality of language, as a whole. Certain languages will extinguish or merge while others will be created, then formalised and recognized as a language – what about coding or text languages for instance?
What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Keep trying! The most difficult thing is defying the language barrier which is only a mental barrier. Studying languages is about never stopping to try and asking for words you are missing… and eventually trials become more successful and words are missing less often. If you struggle motivating yourself, just imagine all the friendships you can create by speaking more languages!