Name: José Miguel Ramírez-Giraldo
Nationality or Ethnicity: Colombian/Paisa (Central Western Colombian)
Where do you live?: Pereira, Colombia
Languages: Spanish (Native); Basque, English, Portuguese, German (advanced and fluent), French, Italian, Catalan (high-intermediate, semi-fluent); Irish, Esperanto, Swedish, Japanese (intermediate, conversational); Latin, Norwegian, Hebrew, Turkish, Dutch (low-intermediate, not fluent).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born in 1980 and brought up a monolingual in a lower-class family between Pereira and Medellín in Western Colombia. I grew up with a passion for all things foreign, especially music and TV series, which lead me to teach myself English from the age of 10 through Anglo pop and rock song lyrics in bilingual version from newspapers and magazines. In parallel, my favourite subject was always social studies.
I came in touch with English literature at 16 thanks to two American friends in Pereira, my hometown, and at 17 met Roberto, an amazing neighbour, who was not only a great teacher but also a polyglot who let me borrow books for improving my English and learning German. He didn’t teach me, but would help me practice these two languages and give lots of tips on how to learn other languages and inspired me to pursue my multilingual dreams and become a teacher of foreign languages.
In the late 90s and on Roberto’s suggestion, I became a DXer (short-wave radio freak) and that’s how I would make my foreign friends and practice my languages back then by listening and exchanging letters in English, German, Portuguese and Japanese. This hobby of mine got me in touch with many languages and no doubt inspired me to learn as many as I could in the years to come.
It was then I bumped into Galician, Catalan and Basque as well, through a Spanish radio station. I was fascinated by Basque’s lack of intelligibility and after some research I found I did have some Basque family roots. I became crazy about all things Basque (which I still am) and started learning the language partly online and partly from printed books mailed to me by some Basques institutions I wrote to.
I became fluent by chatting in Basque on kaixotxat.com and by exchanging letters for a couple years with a Basque girl.
As the internet started to become mainstream in the early 2000s it was just natural to use this new resource to learn new languages at the same time as I completed my training to become a teacher of foreign languages.
I’ve been a teacher form over 18 years now and during this time, I’ve had the honour of teaching English, German and Portuguese formally and 7 more non-formally (basic and low intermediate private courses, etc.). I now teach at a university part-time.
During these years, I’ve been faithful to my self-learning creed and have learned (or at least gotten started in) an average of a language per year, being really successful in just half of them, I must confess.
Thanks to my job as a teacher and my former one as a tour guide, I’ve also had the chance to meet lots of people from many countries (60 or so), amongst them many highly inspiring fellow polyglots, a few face to face, such as fellow Pereirans Giovanni Ceballos and Santiago Diossa, and many others online, such as American Ellen Jovin and Michael Morris, Spanish Javier Carco, as well as the great late Jewish-British Alan R. King.
My language learning story went public in 2014 when I made my first YouTube videos, which in turn lead me to fulfilling my life-long dream of visiting the Basque country and getting my Basque certified (C1) in 2015.
I haven’t stopped reading, because it is a great way to keep my languages alive and growing, and I’ve read hundreds of books in around 15 of my languages so far. Fluency is a different issue, but I currently speak in 6 or 7 of my languages on a regular basis. Live, of course.I’ve also administered several FB groups for several languages, most notably the “Euskara/Basque Learning Network”, which is worldwide, and my YouTube Channel “Jose Miguel Polyglot” is still active, even if I haven’t uploaded a new video in a couple years. I’m a busy family guy now, I must clarify.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish I could practice my Irish, Japanese and Turkish more, 3 very challenging languages, but fascinating ones beyond belief. I love them.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I’d like to restart with Georgian, Japanese and Welsh, as well as learning a few indigenous American and African languages together with Greek and Hindi.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
LOL. Tough question. All Romance languages are very sexy. German, Georgian and Hebrew are also very sexy, believe it or not.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
As someone said, learning a new language is gaining a new soul. It’s like living several lives in a single one. This is because learning a new language is like being born again and again, but always remembering your past incarnations. Isn’t that just amazing?
6. 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?
It’s one of my worst fears, though I don’t think we’ll live to see it happen. This will become the most boring world ever, the product of a true diversity holocaust, and don’t forget it is diversity that make us really human.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Believe in that dream of yours with all of your heart and all of your soul, but be serious. Languages are not learned overnight and a language in itself without further knowledge won’t take you too far. Learn about their history, their culture, their politics, learn about the worries, aspirations and needs of their speakers as well, and when you do, you’ll make amazing friends that will literally take you to whole new levels, and I don’t mean only language levels.
and using a new language today.